Sunday, January 8, 2012


As part of my January plan to get in better shape, I've employed a few strategies that change the way I have done things in the past. Before now I have gone into new years trying to achieve big goals like "get in better shape" and have inevitably failed. This year, in keeping with what I have been learning about myself and seen work over the past few months, I'm instead trying to set up a habit or two that keeps me going. I've talked all too much about this writing habit, and I've recently spoken a lot about the running habit I'm developing. Another habit I have is to stand on the scale in the morning and keep track of my weight in a spreadsheet.

So that you can have a picture of this, I'm 5' 10-1/2" tall and as of December 26, 2011 weighed 210.6 pounds. I have a big frame so I don't look ridiculously overweight day-to-day, but I'm heavy according to my doctor. He would like to see me down about 190 and I have long dreamed of being at 185, a weight at which I felt particularly strong and healthy.

I have never had much luck with food-logs, tracking calories, denying myself certain foods, and the like. If I focus on the food it all seems like too much of a trial and, instead of developing a habit, I develop a hatred for the plan. But I like numbers and I like seeing trends, so I weigh myself each morning and put it in a spreadsheet I created. It displays my daily weight, seven-day average, daily loss or gain, average loss or gain, and number of pounds to drop until 185. It's a scoreboard.

But today the damn scale said 208.4 and that was higher than yesterday for reasons that escaped me.

Now, I understand that the important thing to watch is the trend and the trend still says that I'm doing well. I'm on a very slow train toward weight loss. Looking at that number this morning, however, derailed my thinking and left me wanting to have pancakes, a sweet latte, and a cup and a half of maple syrup. In other words, the whole enterprise felt pointless.

That's the voice of anxiety talking. Change is hard. New habits are tough to create because old habits have a way of hanging around. Old habits scream and carry on, they  dig their claws in and refuse to be moved. Most of the time it's just easier to let them be and say, "this is life." That's how I felt this morning.

The ideal thing to do would have been to breathe, accept the number, and go forward, but I'm not there yet. I came out of the bathroom and asked my wife if I could whine a bit. She's a glutton and tends to love me, so she said sure. I carried on for a few minutes and then she suggested two or three things it might be. I found myself doing two things: nodding and smiling.

And I find myself thinking two things about setbacks. One, that they aren't anything to get too upset about. They happen and then we move forward again. Two, it's a good thing to talk about setbacks and get some help with motivation from someone else. As soon as I had talked with her about this, it got better. I'm not kidding. It got better. I felt more able to get back to work. I felt like the habits still had value.

There isn't a magic trick to losing weight. I wish that there was. I wish the things on television, in magazines, and splashed across the web could be believed, but they can't. That's all nonsense. (When I was a child, my mother told me that all advertisements are lies. That simple idea has served me well especially in election years.) The only way to lose weight is to eat naturally and in small proportions while moving much more. I have the second part of that under control. Already in January, eight days in, I have run more miles than I did in November or December of last year. I feel stronger, breathe easier, and have more energy because of it. It's the eating part that I need to focus some energy on.

Michael Pollan's mantra seems the best plan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." If I can start doing that, the numbers on the scale get better. More importantly, I start feeling better.

Up above, I mentioned that I dream of weighing 185. I know that the number on the scale is just a myth. It's the fact of what I weigh in that moment. The real goal is to feel good and strong again. To feel better and stronger than I do now. I feel better and stronger today than I did yesterday even though the number on the scale went in a direction I'm not thrilled with. Seems to me that the answer to a setback isn't a sharp course correction. It's a matter instead of staying the course, or to put it in the terms in which I end every one of these posts, I just need to write on.