Monday, November 9, 2009

What's in a Number?

I’m in month 11 of my (latest) journey to becoming and staying a healthy writer. I started in the beginning of 2009 and promised myself I’d give it a year no matter what. I would go to Weight Watchers (WW) all year and go to the gym at least 100 times. I’m approaching the one-year mark, and I’m starting to obsess about what my total weight loss number for 2009 will be. Will the number be big enough?

I don’t think that’s healthy or helpful. When I first set my health goals for the year, I told myself that it would be a success if I just lost 20 pounds. Actually, losing 20 pounds and reaching size 14 seemed almost an impossible goal for years and years. I promised myself I would continue with my efforts if I lost almost no weight. If I lost 5, 10, or 15 pounds, I’d still go to WW every week and keep working out throughout the year. No matter what I’d give it my all.

I’ve now lost 25 pounds and gone down 2 or so sizes. I’m very happy to have accomplished that, but I can’t help thinking I want a bigger number for the year. There are ladies at my regular WW meetings who have lost so much more. I can think of at least 2 who have lost more than 40 pounds, and we started at around the same point. If anything, I started older and fatter.

I know it’s not healthy to compare myself to others. I can only do what I can do. I’ll never be perfect at this, but if I keep going, I will make forward progress. Knowing that still doesn’t mean I don’t entertain unhealthy thoughts.

For example, I've thought about staying in DC for Thanksgiving – partly as a money saver but also because I'd eat less than if I went to CT and might actually lose weight that week bringing me that much closer to a “big” number for the year. Not a really good reason, I realize, and I love going home for Thanksgiving, but it’s still tempting. It’s just another sign that I have to struggle against getting obsessed with what my total weight loss for the year will be. It's a great measurement, but I think obsessing about it is unhealthy. It just leads to negative feelings that can lead to overeating.

What does it matter if it's 30 pounds vs. 35 vs. 20 something if I'm ultimately heading to the same point? It certainly does not help that it encourages me to consider doing really stupid, unhealthy things like contemplating cutting back my eating to unhealthy levels for the next 2 months. I know that’s stupid, but it does still cross my mind at times. The only way the size of my annual weight loss number matters would be if I let myself think the number was too small and I should just give up. I’ll never make my goal weight so why should I continue?

I promised myself I’d give it my all for 2009, and I’m absolutely committed to that, but 2010 is a new year. Now, I’m leaning towards making myself the same promise for 2010, and in some ways, joining this blog did extend my promise further than Dec. 31, 2009. I’m trying to be aware of my emotions, so I can work them out and not let them convince me to mess this up and self-sabotage. I want to keep moving forward in a healthy way. That’s why I’m trying not to obsess about what my total weight loss number for 2009 will be.


Elise Hayes on November 9, 2009 at 9:27 AM said...

Hey Michelle!

Good for you for diving into this self-reflection. I think the competitive issue (*she's* lost 40 lbs and I've "only" lost 25) would be the hardest, at least for me.

But your long-term approach, as you've discussed in your other blogs, is to focus on making a lifestyle change. I actually think you're more likely to succeed in making that change by taking the slower road. The point isn't to starve yourself into thinness (and then gain it all again 6 months later) or to exercise yourself into an injury. The real goal is to figure out which eating habits keep you at the same weight, which let you lose, and which make you gain.

The most important in that list, I think, is figuring out the habits that keep you at the same weight, because ultimately that's going to be what you're targeting as a lifetime goal.

I've been so proud of you as I've watched you on this journey. It's long and hard, but you've stayed incredibly positive and haven't given up. So think of me as your cheerleading team saying, "Rah, Rah! Go, Michelle, go!"

Michelle Butler on November 9, 2009 at 10:43 AM said...

Thanks, Elise! Your cheerleading helps. :)

One of the best things about this blog is that it forces me to be self-reflective about this journey. That in turn forces me to identify how I'm thinking and feeling about the whole thing at any one time - and I can name the emotions that may trip me up if I left them unconfronted/un-worked out so to speak.

If I were totally honest, I'd say I'm taking the slow road bc I can't figure out any way to make this faster - :) - but I am trying to be philosophical about the slow road and see it as a positive.

Theresa Ragan on November 9, 2009 at 12:27 PM said...

Go Michelle!! You have done an amazing job losing all that weight. And I think it's great that you're willing to pour out all of your thoughts about obsessing. I obsess about food all day long many matter how busy I keep myself...and I hate that. I don't want to think about food or how much I want sugar. I am reading David Kessler's book called "The End of Overeating" and he talks about overweight people and thin people obsessing about food. So much of our overeating is due to habit and it's hard to change our craving certain foods late at night or when we're watching movies, etc. I'll let you know when I've read the part that tells me how to break these habits. I would love to enjoy an entire week where I don't think about food. Wouldn't that be great? I wish I could go to the grocery store without using every bit of willpower NOT to buy a donut or a cookie to eat on the way home.

Anyhow...I am rambling...I mostly just wanted to tell you that you're doing great and you're not alone when it comes to obsessing!!

Michelle Butler on November 9, 2009 at 12:37 PM said...

Thanks, Theresa!

I would say that I'm actually better with obsessing about food now in month 11. I don't do it as much as I used to, AND even more importantly, I've been able to stop myself several times this year from turning to food when I've been really stressed, upset, etc. - incidents before that would have had me stuffing my face in moments. I'm not at "it's just food" anywhere near 100% of the time, but I am there sometimes - and that amazes me.

I really like Kessler's book. I hope you find it helpful too.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on November 9, 2009 at 6:56 PM said...

Michelle, I agree with Elise that you are more likely to succeed long term by taking the slower route. I've been trying to tell myself that too as I'm about 3 pounds from the next milestone and have been in this range for awhile now.

I can so relate to the obsessing about food, especially when I'm particularly hormonal.

Michelle Butler on November 9, 2009 at 7:43 PM said...

Thanks, Trish!

Over the long haul, there does seem to be cycles to weight loss. There are stretches when I lose weight consistently and stretches when I don't lose at all - and for the most part (give or take a really bad or really good week), there aren't differences in behavior on my part. It just seems like the body is very ready to let go of the weight at some points and not at others.

One guy in my WW meetings says he's on a 15 pound cycle - 15 pounds will just fly off followed by 15 pounds that are almost impossible to lose - followed by 15 that fly off - and I think he's lost more than 70 pounds now. There are mysteries to it.

Best wishes on those 3 pounds. You'll get there at some point over the long term.

Tawny on November 9, 2009 at 11:05 PM said...

Wow, what a wonderful post, Michelle. Isn't it interesting how a number, a goal, a 'date' pigeonholes us and we focus on just that and not all the positives? I do that all the time. I also obsess with the scale numbers so much that if I see how hard I'm working and don't see corresponding losses on the scale, I tend to give up.

So this round I'm only focusing on the work. On journaling my food and exercise, on setting workout goals of so many steps a day and running this many miles a week, on increasing my weight days and, well, on the things I can do and control. I haven't even stepped on the scale and am telling myself I won't until I've stuck with this for a solid month. I figure at that point, the number won't be as stressful, and better yet, I'll be solidly in the exercise habit and won't let the number-whatever it is-derail me.

You're an inspiration :-) Thanks.

Michelle Butler on November 10, 2009 at 9:35 AM said...

Thanks, Tawny!

I think your approach sounds very helpful and healthy. I've thought about whether it was helpful that I was weighing in every week as opposed to going longer periods in between. It came down to I was gaining more from the structure and support WW provides than I was losing from the weekly confrontation with the scale. If I were doing this entirely on my own, I might not weigh in every week.

I also suggest you take your measurements before and after given how much exercise you are doing. You'll see a big difference there even if you don't see as big of one as you would like on the scale.

Part of this is about moderating you expectations.

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