By Louise Kennedy
OK, so here is the truth I promised to share last week: I weigh 189 pounds. That’s a pound more than I was figuring when I told you my BMI was 29.4. At this weight and my height (5 feet 7 inches), my BMI is 29.6.
I guess I’m happy that I still haven’t quite tipped over into “obese” (BMI of 30 or more), but let’s not quibble here, shall we? There’s no ducking it: I weigh more than I should, and more than I can admit without a deep sense of shame.
The shame is why I’m putting the number up here for everyone to see. 189. I don’t like it; it makes me cringe to see it; it’s more than I’ve ever weighed when I wasn’t pregnant; it makes me feel fat, ugly, and failing.
Let’s hold it right there. “Fat” I get, but where did “ugly” and “failing” come from? From our appearance-obsessed culture, of course, and from my own neuroses and deep-seated beliefs, many of them passed down, wittingly or not, from my parents. Thin is good and fat is bad; thin means you’re behaving yourself, and fat means you have no self-control.
On a conscious level, I reject all this. But it’s striking how quickly it crops up whenever I think about losing weight – and about the larger aim of which losing weight is only a part: improving my health.
So. Deep breath. My weight, like yours, is only a number. It is a data point that gives one indication, but only one, of my overall health. Right now, my number is 189. A year from now, I want it to be 145. (That would give me a BMI of 22.7, squarely in the middle of the “normal” range between 18.5 and 24.9.) But hating my current number, and hating myself for it, is not going to help me get to the number I want.
That’s one of the first lessons I’ve picked up from Allison Rimm, the management coach and consultant who will be one of my chief supporters through this yearlong project. (Disclosure: CommonHealth co-host Carey Goldberg and Allison are friends. Carey suggested Allison, whose speciality is strategy — she used to be senior vice president for strategic planning and information for Massachusetts General Hospital and is the author of The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life — as a big-picture consultant for Project Louise. I feel lucky to have both of them in my corner.)
Allison and I met at a Starbucks to discuss my overall goals, and once we’d sat down with our drinks (green tea for her, latte for me … hmm, should I try to make myself like green tea, which to me tastes like old hay?), she laid down a rule: no negative self-talk.
“Uh, OK,” I said.
“Did you notice that was one of the first things you said to me?”
I hadn’t noticed. So I thought back through the five minutes since we’d met. Right: Her tea came right up, and we had to stand there a minute waiting for my latte. And I said, “Oh, I’m such an idiot. I always forget a latte takes longer.”
So, no more calling myself an idiot, and no more feeling ashamed of weighing what I weigh. That’s one of the first goals that Allison and I set together; in fact, she went further and suggested that I practice “talking nicely to myself,” but, interestingly, I forgot that until she reminded me yesterday. The other goals were to buy a scale (as you can see from the photo, I met that one) and to visit the gym I joined six months ago and have not used once since then (returning to goal 1, I am now silencing the negative self-talk that bubbles up from that fact) and pick an activity that seems appealing. My choice: swimming.
Those goals may sound pretty small — and that’s the point. Allison explained that she was drawing on the principle of Kaizen, or “small steps,” and giving me small, doable tasks in order to break the inertia of doing nothing. This reminds me of a system I’ve used successfully (when I use it) to declutter my house, Flylady‘s “baby steps,” which in turn reminds me of David Allen’s “next actions.” Let’s face it: Creating lifelong change is a pretty daunting task, and it feels overwhelming sometimes. But “buy a scale” is something I know how to do.
In the same vein, Allison suggested that I spend some time reflecting on how to break my larger goal down into more specific steps. She mentioned that the more specific my goals are, the more likely I am to reach them — and she also promised to talk a lot more with me in our next meeting about how to set goals successfully. So, after I left Starbucks, I jotted down my list of goals for this project:
• Reach 145 pounds.
• Lower my cholesterol and triglycerides.
• Feel comfortable in size 10-12 clothing.
• Create and follow a regular, sustainable exercise plan.
• Eat healthfully at least five days a week.
• Take better care of myself.
• Feel at home with myself.
That last one ties into some larger goals that Allison and I discussed, because she quickly persuaded me that Project Louise won’t work if I think of it strictly in physical terms. I already knew that this wasn’t going to be just another diet project; like almost every woman I know, I’ve tried a slew of diets, some successful and some not. But my current goal — to create and maintain lifelong habits of good health – is going to make me look deeply at every aspect of my life, Allison points out, from the physical to the emotional and even the spiritual. If my new regimen doesn’t fit into my larger vision of what I want my life to be, she says, I won’t really change.
I know she’s right. But I’m also a little scared. “Vision” is such a big word.
So I’m relieved that, at the same time, Allison wants me to make my list of goals a bit more specific. For right now, I think I’ll focus on that.
For the next week, here are my goals:
• Swim at least once.
• Go for at least one 20-minute walk.
• Eat vegetables at lunch and dinner every day.
• And, oh yeah, start crafting a vision for my life.
Readers, what about you? Do you have goals for the next year — or the next week? And what are your best tips for setting attainable goals?