I’ve been hearing a lot lately from people who are having difficulties reaching their goals. So much so, that I can’t help wondering if maybe they’re relying more on external expectations than internal goals.
Let’s look first at the difference. A goal is an aim you set for yourself, and it really needs to be achievable. (If it’s not achievable, you’re only setting yourself up for failure.) An external expectation is something others expect of you (or that you think others expect of you). Too often, I think, we have the idea that we need to conform to others’ expectations, and that if we don’t we have somehow failed.
What kind of goals do we set as low carbers?
For many of us, our low carb goals have to do with weight loss. A large percentage of us come to low carb because it promises weight loss without hunger or deprivation. And so we look at the height/weight charts, or take someone’s word for what we “should” weigh, and set that as a goal. Never mind that, for some of us, the last time we weighed what the chart says we ought to weigh was pre-puberty – that’s what the chart says, and by golly that’s what we’re aiming for!
By now, you probably have the idea (and correctly, at that), that I am against using height/weight charts to determine goal weight. Let me rephrase – I believe that for many of us, those old charts are unrealistic. Let’s explore why.
1. Height/weight charts were developed not by doctors, but by life insurance companies. They used statistics to determine who was at the least risk of dying, and developed “ideal weight” charts based on who they were least likely to have to pay a death benefit to. (This doesn’t mean those people were in optimum health, only that they were statistically at a lower risk of dying. Had the height/weight charts been compiled by health insurance statisticians, based on those for whom they were least likely to have to buy drugs or pay for specialists and surgeries, the numbers would probably be more realistic for goal-setting purposes.)
2. Most people put on a few pounds as they age; this is normal. (It’s when you get into “more than a few” that it becomes desirable to lose weight.) A woman 5′ 4″ tall who weighed 115 when she was in her teens and early 20’s should not expect to remain at 115 forever. At the age of 45, 125 or even 135 may be more reasonable, depending on her general build and condition.
3. Unlike a high carbohydrate, low fat (and, incidentally, low protein) diet, low carbing (and especially exercising while low carbing) adds muscle mass. As far as body composition goes, muscle is fairly heavy compared to fat that occupies the same volume. Or, to look at it another way, you can lose 10 pounds of fat, gain 10 pounds of muscle, and have lost a clothing size while weighing the same as when you started.
4. Those of us who have been very heavy for a long period of time (in general, more than 80% overweight for at least a third of your life) may have increased bone density – our bones weigh more than the bones of slender people – and, actually, that is a GOOD thing, because if we can maintain that bone density as we age, we can avoid the problems associated with osteoporosis. But denser bones do weigh more.
Numbers 3 and 4, here, deserve a closer look, because they give us information that can be helpful in goal-setting for weight loss. If we understand that even the much-touted Body Mass Index may be unreliable for those with higher muscle and/or bone mass, we begin to realize that there are really only two viable criteria when we want to set a weight-loss goal: goal size and overall health.
Let’s say you’re a woman who wore a size 2 in high school, and now you’re over 40 and have kids. Hopefully, you realize by now that getting back into those tiny jeans may be unrealistic. But the size 16 you’re wearing now is completely unacceptable! So what’s a gal to do? I recommend starting with shorter-term goals: “I’d like to get into a size 10, and then reassess.” Once you’ve made that goal, you can decide whether you’re comfortable there, or whether you want to go down to size 8 and reassess again. Who knows, you may be one of those people who can and should get back to size 2 – but, more than likely, somewhere around size 6, you may decide you look good, you’re comfortable, and you’re at a place that’s easy to maintain. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
Or perhaps, like me, you’ve never been a size 2 – or even a size 16. How do you know what the “right” weight or size is for you? I believe that, for myself, and maybe for many others, the best way to gauge “goal” is when you feel healthy. That’s something so subjective, no one can judge it for you. When you feel good, can do the things you want to do, and most importantly feel comfortable with your body, that’s when you’re “at goal.”
Low carbing, as we know, is a means to better health. Next time, I’ll discuss health-related goals that don’t directly pertain to weight loss.