Topic 6 - Goal Weights
As we discussed in the topic about the genetics of weight, Rethinking Thin comes down hard on the side of weight being determined by genetics. It repeatedly talks about a 10 – 30 pound natural weight range that we’re born with and says within the range, weight can be manipulated fairly easily. Outside of that range, the book maintains, it’s very difficult to achieve weight loss and regardless, it’s not sustainable:
Suzanne 3FC once told me that the average 3FC member is 100 pounds overweight, according to standard weight charts. As is apparent when you look at tickers and goal weights, almost everyone has picked a goal weight in the normal BMI range, requiring what is sometimes quite a dramatic weight loss, like losing from 300+ pounds to 140. But I think it’s safe to say that not many 3FC members make it to their stated goals.
So the question is: do we need to rethink our goal weights?
When you join Weight Watchers, you’re given a goal weight based on normal BMI. Diet books assume that everyone can achieve a normal weight. But a lot of us seem to get stuck in a 20 – 30 pound rut. We get fired up, take off 20 or 30 pounds, and then stall. We feel like failures because we haven’t lost as much as we hoped, throw up our hands, and gain it back. Only to start the cycle all over again. This was my pattern for decades!
In the Three Months section of Rethinking Thin, focusing on the Penn study dieters, the whole issue of goal weights is addressed. At the three-month mark, most of the dieters had lost 10% of their body weight:
Other sections of the book discuss the disconnect between “dream weights” and the realities of what can be achieved in the long-term.
In a study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that 60% of people who had a “substantial” weight loss (defined as a mere 10% of body weight) were able to maintain that loss within 5% for at least a year. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/558092?src=mp :
Seemingly, almost everyone here at 3FC wants to be in that tiny group that loses more than 5% of their body weight. Yet statistics – and real-life experience – indicate that it’s very, very unlikely to happen. However, a 5 – 10% loss seems to be much more achievable, and more importantly, sustainable.
Is it realistic for the obese to expect to achieve a normal weight (defined as a normal BMI)? Would it be better to convince ourselves to lose and maintain just 5 – 10% of our weight? Can we -- should we -- encourage other people and ourselves to settle for a permanent weight loss that still leaves us/them technically overweight or even obese? Do we need to change our definition of "success"?
My opinion is that any weight loss is worth being taken and cherished, because even 10% less is still better than nothing lost at all. But, of course, it would be hypocritical to say that nevr losing anything else again doesn't matter at all, because I'm pretty sure that for most of us (myself included), reaching a healthy, 'normal' BMI would still sound even better than that.
This said, the way I understood it, that 30 lbs range doesn't have to be understood as "a range around one's heighest weight ever", if this makes sense.
I wonder, why exactly do we stall after 20-30 lbs? Is it because it is really impossible? Because we were all fired up, did too much too soon all at once, and then burnt up just as easily (let's not fool ourselves, A LOT of people do the all-or-nothing crash course, which doesn't help)? For people like Meg, who have lost lots AND maintained for years, and still do, wasn't there a difference between the endless diets and the very last time, the one when they succeeded? (I mean, a difference in how they approached the weight loss, how they integrated exercise within it, how they viewed all of it, etc.) After all, that 20-30 lbs mark hits people with less weight to lose as well, so it's not exactly proportional to mass itself, if I may say.
I may be mistaken, or I may have read too fast, but the impression I got at the end regarding the Penn study was exactly that: those people were all fired up, put tons of hope into the program, and then a sense of burnout arose (I gathered that many of them fell back into the old Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/wedding/birthdays/whatever trap; don't we all know that one!), and they didn't fall back on their feet after that. All the while, I kind of felt like they were letting their fate rest within the hands of the program, they wanted it to happen fast (understandable, though!), and then the slighest bump on the road was suddenly a huge deal. So maybe it's a factor, and an important one. It is a hard journey, with lots of bumps on the way, so the more aware of them we are (and to tackle them for the long run and not just for a few months), the more chances we have of 'doing things right'.
Anyway, I don't know if we need to rethink our goal weights forever, but maybe we need to rethink them in terms of smaller steps. When someone's been overweight for a long time, the body is definitely used to that weight, and perhaps a first loss of, say 30 lbs, then a second goal of 30 lbs after maintaining for a few weeks, etc., could be a worthwhile approach, depending on the people. To force one's body to get reacquainted with a more and more normal weight. I don't believe it is totally impossible to get out of that 30 lbs range, at least not when someone is clearly overweight (it's another story if you're, like, 5 lbs from the average healthy range for your size, but being doomed to remain, say, 'between 250 and 280 lbs forever', for instance? Illogical.). But it is a fact it may take time, and more time than just a few weeks or months. IMHO, therein lies the real danger: not some kind of genetic curse, but just good old us getting bored and slowly slipping.
Here's something interesting and potentially related from the textbook of a Neuroscience class I took in grad school. I don't have it in front of me to quote, but they did this experiment where they took mice and either starved them, or overfed them (force feeding) for a period of time until their weights were either much above or much below their starting weight. They found that the mice, once they were able to eat at their own discretion again, returned to their starting weights. That is, the starved mice ate extra to gain weight until reaching their start weight (or close to it), and the fat mice ate less until they reached their start weight. This would seem to indicate that the body (of mice at least) does indeed have a "preferred weight."
However, the number of obese people seems to discount that. What happened to us? Do such a large proportion of people (more each year) have a messed up "preferred weight"? Or are we gaining past our preferred weight for some reason? Does the preferred weight then get reset to a higher level the longer we stay overweight?
It's hard to come up with answers to this kind of thing. If I eat a healthy diet and exercise, I can maintain my weight approximately where it is. If my eating gets bad or I stop working out, I will gain weight. The more I eat, the more weight I gain. I guess I'm not clear if the 20-30lb "range" is only talking about losing weight, not about gaining it. Theoretically if the body had a preferred weight, then not only would it be hard to lose much below that weight, but it would also be hard to gain much over that weight. Instead, it seems to be hard to lose and easy to gain.
I think a 10% loss of weight is a great accomplishment. There have been plenty of medical studies I've heard about where they say things like "a 10% loss of weight for an obese person leads to an X% decreased risk of (some terrible disease)." Of course by that logic, if you lose 10% of your weight your risk is decreased. Assume you are still overweight after that loss. Then the same statistic would apply, and losing another 10% would decrease your risk even more, and another 10% after that until you reach a normal weight. Obviously if that is the case then for optimal health you would have to lose down to a normal weight. However, any loss is a benefit.
I wonder how all of this is related to the struggle to lose the "last 10 lbs." As you lose weight, each pound becomes a larger percentage of your total body weight. It seems like it is harder and harder to lose as you get lighter. Now that I am maintaining, if I gain 5lbs it is a huge struggle to take them off again. At my high weight, 5lbs was 2.7% of my body weight. Now it is 3.8%. Eating 1600 calories a day I lost weight much faster when I weighed 180 than I did when I weighed 140, since my body's calorie needs were less at the lower weight. It seems like it is evident that it will always be easier to lose the first 10% than anything beyond that. It is easier to lose the first 1% than the 1% after that.
As we often see here at 3FC, many people don't know how to choose a goal. Yet we feel compelled to choose something. A target. Being smaller, slimmer, fitter, healthier is a nebulous notion and not very satisfying.
We love statistics, numbers. Look at sports. We want concrete things to talk about.
Maybe each time someone posts that they are unsatisfied with their loss so far, we should make them a percentage to mull over.
I personally don't think most folks know that the success statistics are so dire.
Are many folks concern about any loss being sustainable? Do they realise there's any sustaining to do?
Is lack of belief in oneself a factor? What difference does it make what your goal is if you know you can't do it anyway?
What about what I call 'sedentary fluff'. It's very popular right now to move a little more and eat a little healthier. If a large enough number of folks switch out fries for salad and take the stairs ... anything further would be more of an upset, a life change, more difficult???
But to me, this is a step in the right direction. If one can begin to lose by simply walking from the far side of the parking lot, why not walk around the block in the cool of the evening, why not try low fat dressing on the lunch salad?
As to why losing 10 lbs doesn't motivate people to keep going ... I dunno. But then I'm drifting back into my prejudice that what you have to do is move more and eat less. Sorry.
I completely agree, Jessica. :) Heck, that's what I used to think too!
OK this is going to be a different perspective... How many diets were you on in your lifetime Meg? Gloria?
I havent gotten to maintenance yet so I realize I am not eligible to be a "success" by the definition of the study. But lets just assume for arguments sake that this time is IT.
Let's see...I first remember really dieting starting at about 15. I think I went on 2-3 diets a year, but some of them didnt last long enough to be worthwhile. Lets just count the times in my life that I stuck with a program long enough to lose at least 5 lbs. Lets see, I'd estimate 15?
So I have tried 15 times and succeeded once? That is a 6.7% success rate. Darn near 5 %.
So to say that only 5% of PEOPLE who lose weight keep it off may again be a (mis) interpretation of statistics. Yes some people may get it right the first time, but not many. So it isnt that 95% of us are doomed to failure. We all have the potential to succeed. It just may take more than one attempt, and I think for a lot of us, the support helps put the skids on a lot sooner and get back on track a lot sooner.
The other thing to consider is that those who ARE successful are never included in FUTURE studies on weight loss. Its kind of like the divorce statistic. When you hear the 50% of marriages end in divorce, its not exactly true. Its all in how you add it up.
Its not a meaningful number when applied to an individual.
I think most people go about dieting as a temporary condition. They do it UNTIL they reach their goal.
What sets successful maintainers like Meg apart is she realized she had to make a lifetime commitment to a lifestyle change to remain at her goal.
I don't think that a person should be satisfied with a 10-20% weight loss if that still keeps her in the obese catagory.
3FC has scores of success stories of people who have lost 100 lbs and more and met their individual goal weights.
The question becomes, have they all been able to stay at that goal (or within a minimal regain) or have they gone back to their highest weights.
Do 3FCers as a group fit Kolata's conclusions?
I agree Carolyn. :yes:
I think that one should strive for "healthy" whatever that might be. For some people it is a higher weight than others.
I would suggest that, really, a person's goal weight should be the one at which their body naturally gravitates toward when they are eating a balanced diet and regularly exercising.
And, that is a much healthier way of living than just losing weight for reasons of vanity.
*Theoretically* anyone can lose weight through starvation. Is that healthy? No. Is that person healthier than an obese individual? Probably not.
So, live healthily and let your weight be what it will be. I am sure than for many who are very overweight, just adopting a healthy lifestyle will drop the pounds anyway.
Now, I say all of this, but I struggle enormously with the balance between what is Healthy to do and what is Vain and unhealthy to do.
For instance, I went to my doctor's today and she thinks that I should not lose any more weight. But I want to because I think that it will make me "prettier." Hm, I need to start following some of the advice I dole out!
I really wondered about the 20-30 pound fluctuations she talked about and wondered the extent to which it applied to people who became morbidly obese. Again I don't think we know enough! I know when I was younger I had a 'set' point around 220 and then later, around 250. Oh look, that's even a 30 pound range!
But then I kept gaining and gaining... pretty easily it seemed. And I don't think I'm unusual for those who became morbidly obese...
I even wondered when I started losing, whether I would get stuck at 220... nope, sailed right by it. I do seem to be "stuck" in the 170s, but that seems more motivational than biological.
So, goals. I never really set a low goal. I hoped to get below 200 and then below 180 (so to not be obese). I've lost nearly 40% of my starting weight and by all accounts am one of the "lucky" ones already. And I do feel that way. I may never be a normal weight, and frankly, right now I don't care. I can do so much more! Of course, I may be "stuck" here, because I don't really WANT to lose more... "food" for thought...
I may be reading between the lines creatively here but ... I'm seeing a lot of folks pointing to inaccurrate or faulty goal choosing.
If a 300 lb woman decides that many women weigh 125 lbs so she will too, then proceeds to get down to 189 ... is she a failure? I'm sure none of us think so. However her opinion and statistics may show otherwise. And what if she regains 15 lbs?
Those of us who are short and small boned know how small 125 lbs really is and understand why it shouldn't be such a common goal.
I'm going to pay more attention to goal weights as I read threads here.
I actually find this topic fascinating and depressing all at once because, for me, I found the whole concept of a 'goal weight' to be the most destructive and useless idea in a lifelong attempt to be 'thin'. Not hitting goal, or stalling out temporarily on the way was a failure that I could beat myself with, then absolve myself with the impossibility of it all, and please pass the ice cream. I made zero progress in getting my weight under control until I booted the whole idea of a goal weight and concentrated more on improving the quality of my life than a number on the scale. My weight is the result of my lifestyle and not the cause of it. Not that I don't monitor it as an early warning sign, but I monitor a lot of numbers (running pace, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc) as well.
The goal weight is one of the things I have a hard time with here at 3FC. I almost never go to the Goal section of the board. I actually find it sort of depressing, not because I haven't made my goals (I've made all of them I set for myself when I was morbidly obese, it's just that none of them have a weight in them). I wonder who will stick around, and who has arrived only to return to their old ways. I wonder when the inspirational stories will turn to unattainable disappointment for new users, so they too can wonder what is wrong with them for not making goal. These thoughts are not especially fair to the people who have done a remarkable job of achieving goal, but they are my thoughts all the same. Hence I stay away. I usually keep my mouth shut about it because the Maintainers boards are the closest thing to a healthy long-term approach to Weight Management I've seen anywhere on the web, and I come to give and get support and try not to start big fights or find fault with people who do things differently than me. It just doesn't work for me, and the boards are absolutely saturated with goal weights, since that is the traditional way to do it.
I'm a big 10% fan. 10% makes a huge health difference for most people (I say this with full knowledge that most people are not morbidly obese). The maintenance statistics even look good (60% vs 5%) if goal weights are kept out of the equation. Better is attainable for most of us. Perfect gets left to a few. I think this is the most positive thing I've heard about Rethinking Thin so far. Maybe I'll read it after all.
I'm sort of trying to be provocative with this post, because this topic shot straight to the bottom of the discussion list, and I find it by far the most interesting of the bunch so far.
I find this topic very interesting. As most of you know , I lost my weight due to severe health concerns. My Dr. told me "I want you to weigh 150 lbs". "Get on a low-carb diet and walk 20 minutes 4 times a week". Basically, he set my goal weight, I didn't. As I saw that I was going to be able to make this goal, I decided for vanity reasons to try to reach 145 lbs. (Hadn't seen the 140's in about 30 yrs. and just thought it sounded great). Plus, for some odd reason wanted to impress the Dr. that I could do even more than he required of me.
I never once felt that even a 10% wt. loss would have been "good enough" for me. Anything other than meeting my own personal goal would have made me feel like I had failed. (whether this is right or wrong to feel this way, it's just my personal opiniion about ME. This in turn may be why I gave up when trying so many times before to reach my "perfect goal". When it got too tough, I'd quit (especially if I stalled for a week or 2). This time I felt like I had too much at stake to quit . This is why I pick myself back up and trudge on along even Now if I see a gain. I buckle down and get the job done. I don't think it will ever be Easy or Automatic for me. I do think that I will continue to strugge. I do know that I won't QUIT trying.
Truthfully if my Dr. had said "I want you to lose 10% of your body weight". That is probably all I would have lost. I would have still been very obese and very unhealthy. I'm glad he didn't READ this book and let me off the hook that easily.
Anne -- I really understand where you're coming from about goal weights. I really resisted setting a weight in my mind. I figured that maintaining any kind of weight loss would be a success over where I was. Plus, having been obese my entire adult life, those numbers meant nothing to me anyway.
I did pick mini-goals to shoot for, but hesitantly. I think I reacted negatively when we joined our new gym last fall and everyone just assumed I wanted to lose weight and set weights for me. Inwardly, I rebelled against them.
Now... well, I know I want to continue to be active, to continue to monitor what I eat (I will gain otherwise). I do want to monitor my size and clothing. I have gained back a few pounds and would like to lose them again (I liked my clothing options better, if nothing else! :D)
But beyond that? No goal weight. Right now, I don't care if I lose more weight, as long as I continue to set and achieve other fitness goals for myself (have to figure out what those are first!!).
I wanted to add that Please don't anyone read my post and feel that I think 10% of body weight loss is not a worthwhile goal. My post is coming from the standpoint of , I was taking 23 different medications per day when I started this journey. I now am only taking 8.
I see posts all the time from women who are at or above my starting weight that don't have the health issues that I have. A big congratulations to all of you for working on your wt. before it negatively affected your health. I sure wish I had done the same thing.
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