Project Louise: Facing The Scale And Setting Goals


Louise's number. What's yours? And why is it so hard to say out loud?

Louise’s number. What’s yours? And why is it so hard to say out loud?

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

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?


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  • Lisa Dee

    Louise–you and I are roughly the same age and height, and about eight months ago I weighed 188. I took three “small steps”: started using the Weight Watchers app to track my “intake” with the expected result that I would eat better; started going twice a week to fitness class; and pretty much replaced soft drinks with water. I have lost 14 pounds–not all that I want to lose, and it hasn’t come off fast. But I have kept it off and while doing so have made some lasting changes to how I eat and to my activity level. I know how you feel about all of the workout options being daunting, thus I agree with your plan to choose just one (swimming) to start. Good luck–you are motivating me to do more!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Congratulations, Lisa, that’s great progress! I did Weight Watchers about 20 years ago and had great success with it — but then slowly regained the weight, and more. So I’m ambivalent about shelling out the cash again, but I do believe that the process of logging what you eat and checking in weekly is very helpful. Good luck as you continue to make lasting change!

      • Lisa Dee

        Louise, I had the same WW experience–lost over 30 lbs and gained it back over 20 years! I am using their app to track what I eat & drink, but haven’t delved into their menus nor attended meetings. If you can use your own method to track what you eat then by all means do so.

        FYI, after a Holiday lull I’m back in my fitness class and feeling every ache and pain. But what a stress reliever!

  • alexafleckensteinmd

    So many people will thank you that you are beating this new path – to go public with your struggles, Louise!

    A little aside: Green tea tastes like hay or straw if it is of inferior quality. The more you shell out, the more you will fall in lave with green tea! Unfortunately, this is another unfairness of life. I think it was Lenin, who said “The Communists don’t want to take caviar away from the rich – we want to bring caviar to the poor”.

    Regardless that the communist experiment ended badly, I still go with that sentiment: Let’s bring green tea to the poor! Good green tea, not the scrapings from the factory floor swept into a tea bag …

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Good info on green tea, Alexa, thank you. I’ll give it another try. Though I’d rather have caviar…

  • Julie

    Louise I am excited to follow Project Louise and hope to find helpful information that I can apply in my own life. I know one of our shared goals that is to eat more vegetables. I have considered a vitamix for veggie smoothies and wonder if you have considered similar option to increase daily/weekly veggie intake.

    • Louise Kennedy

      That’s so funny! I had dinner on New Year’s Eve with some friends who’d just acquired a Vitamix and used it for a couple of different dishes — I liked them so much I even tweeted about wanting to get one. For now, though, the price is holding me back. Let me know if you dive in.

  • Phyllis Costello

    This is great! This is my first comment with an on line blog. I am looking forward to more of these posts!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thanks, and welcome to the conversation! I hope you’ll check back every Monday.

  • Amy T

    Great post, thanks Louise! I like the idea of having specific, achievable goals — like you you broke yours down into what you want to do in this next week. I usually make huge goals, and then can’t keep them.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Me too, as you’ll see in my next post. “Baby steps” can feel as if they’re not getting you anywhere, but I do think it’s the way to go.

  • Lee

    It is amazing what exercise and a disciplined approach to eating will do. my wife and I started eating Weight Watchers style after having our second child. I had always fluctuated between 180-185 lbs (i’m 5’9) which isn’t all that heavy but certainly enough to be in the “overweight” zone with a BMI of 26. I was always somewhat fit as I was ran regularly. With watching what we ate through WW it turned out that the only real modifications we made were in the end, relatively minor. It involved curbing the amount of cheese and olive oil we consumed, (both are calorie dense), eating leaner meats (we only buy 93% beef or the 97% lean ground turkey), and portion control (simply having one serving where in the past we might have had two). It also helps that in the Weight Watchers diet you are permitted to eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you like. As a lover of both that was relatively easy. They have a whole catalog of recipes across a wide variety of ingredients and ethnic foods which are fun and easy to make.

    In a matter of 4-5 months I had shed about 10-15 pounds and it made running all the more fun. Plus I found a running group which meets daily so there is always a group to commit to and find support. This all took inertia of its own so pretty soon through better eating habits and regular exercise I got down to a weight at which I fit into the same size jeans as I did as a sophomore in high school. The first few weeks to a month or so were the toughest but I think both my wife and I having a goal and working together to eat better and make time for exercise really made it easy. My normal weight now is anywhere between 158-162lbs and I run faster than I ever did before. I am also fortunate enough to be able to bicycle commute to work which also helps. But it is important to commit to the goal, visualize where you want to be, and follow through on the plan and it obviously helps if you have a partner who will accompany and help with the journey.

    • Louise Kennedy

      This is all fantastic advice — and I’m interested to see another vote for WW. It is definitely an approach that can work, though for me the challenge was to keep with it once i stopped going to meetings. (I had met my goal.) And I wish I liked running — it’s so efficient! — but I just hate it. Good for you, though, and thanks for the reminder that good habits create momentum just as bad ones do.

      • Lee

        we used the online version so no meetings were required and we did not have to buy food from them. We did it with all online tracking and paying attention to what we ate. WW is one of the few weight loss interventions with a randomized clinical trial to support its claims.

        • Lee

          To the point about running: Agreed, running is about the most efficient form of exercise there is but if it’s not your bag there is no sense trying to flog yourself with it. Cycling and swimming are also both good “cardio” exercises.

  • NMF

    Thank you, Louise, for doing this and making it available for all of us. It really is inspiring and I think your willingness to tell your story will help SOOO many of us to make our own moves toward feeling strong and healthy. You are spreading the sunshine! Bravo!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank YOU for spreading a little sunshine too.

  • paula

    Great post Louise. I’ll be following along too. I started a similar journey late-last year and I’m still plugging away. After about 8 weeks of regular exercise I really started feeling better- stronger and oddly taller. I like the idea of baby steps.. I’m going to keep that in mind as a work on my goals for the first quarter. Look forward to reading more!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Good luck with your goals and thank you. Taller … I like the sound of that.

  • Jen F

    Hi Louise. What a great post. Just wanted to echo what a few others said here — be ambitious when it comes to making time to walk and swim. Why settle for one 20 minute walk when you can try and walk each day, maybe after lunch or dinner? And then if something comes up and you don’t have the time one day, it’s not so much of a sacrifice to miss it. This would be my best advice for setting attainable goals: make sure your plan fits your life and has enough flexibility to adjust to unexpected family and work commitments. Go for it!

    • Louise Kennedy

      I’m definitely going to work up from the one day a week, but I deliberately started with an easily attainable goal. (You’ll see in my next post how well that did or didn’t work out.)

  • Judy D

    Be gentle and be patient. As women get older, it is not always as easy to lose weight as it was when we were younger. Baby steps, heading toward your goal will get you there in a sustainable way. And there will be setbacks. You are human. Not a robot. I say this after a major overhaul of my diet that unfolded over 9 months, but is still the way I eat a year and a half later. My weight loss goals were not met, but my health goals were. I have not given up on the weight, but I recognize it is one measure, and not always the most important.

    • Louise Kennedy

      I love this. “Be gentle and be patient” and “You are human. Not a robot.” Let’s all remember this and be kind to ourselves.

  • Hopefulandhappyone

    Can you ask your advisers about ways to handle cravings and dealing with a sweet tooth? I am a serious chocoholic. I have to have dark chocolate in my house at all times and eat a piece (usually small, sometimes not so small) every morning with my coffee. Also I personally know every ice cream shop on the North Shore! How does one make moderation easier? Thanks and I will be following your progress and rooting for you!

    • Judy D

      Switch to very dark chocolate. Work your way up to 85 to 90% chocolate. It is better for you, and once you start cutting out the sweets,…and this is your sweetness in your diet, it is plenty sweet. Lindt has some amazing very dark chocolate, and Trader Joe’s sells some excellent 85% chocolate.

      • Louise Kennedy

        Excellent advice. I’ll also ask for other suggestions. I do agree that once you start cutting back on sugar, your craving for it diminishes. Stick with the dark chocolate and try to steer clear of the ice cream … most of the time. Total deprivation only increases the cravings, for me anyway.

  • Joy Palmer Whitaker

    Wow – you’ve said it all! Thank you! I will be reading this every week as a part of my personal journey to losing weight and feeling good about myself. Small, attainable goals ARE the way to ‘go’ at this; I believe in the past I have overwhelmed myself with goals that are so big – I give up. Thank you for the honesty. My goals for this week are: follow the eating plan I am on (Weight Watchers), go to the pool and swim once, and go through my closet and remove the clothes that have no business being there – except to make me feel bad that I can’t get into them. No, I’m not throwing them out – just setting them aside until they fit. All attainable – and the only one who can make them happen is ME.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Those are great goals. I’d love to know how it went. And I’m sorry I didn’t answer sooner – one of my goals has been to keep up with comments on these posts, but there are more than I had expected! Which is wonderful news, but vacation week sort of got away from me…

  • DD

    Really looking forward to following along with your journey. I relate with you on SO many levels and I am excited for 2014 and my continued goal of getting healthier and more importantly at home with myself. It seems that goal will be my biggest challenge so far.

    I’ve lost 60lbs in 2013 and I think another 40lbs would be very healthy and bring me within normal BMI limits.
    So my goal/motto for 2014 is WHY NOT?…. why not like myself…? Seems others like me just fine.
    Why not move more, eat less? I got a pedometer for Christmas and I am aiming for 10,000 steps a day. Why not try something new and not be afraid to embarrass myself? Hey I snowshoe now and I love it. I’ll be reading every Monday and routing you on along with myself. Slow and steady wins the race right?

    • Louise Kennedy

      Why not indeed. Go DD!

  • sansible

    Go Louise!
    One thing I’m wrestling with – after joining a gym and becoming more active, I have actually gained weight. I know it’ll come off if I stick to better eating habits and such, and I’m trying to concentrate on the fact that I am a lot healthier overall (more strength, more stamina, etc.). I’m just putting it out there in case it helps others. Muscle weighs more than fat, and you may build muscle before you start burning off fat. Remember, you have 7 goals and only one of them is measured by the scale.

    • Sara Bee

      That absolutely happened to me as well. I made a goal to complete a triathlon, and the training caused me to bulk up a bit (not to mention, made me really hungry!). My BMI went back to “overweight” and I was initially devastated, but proud of myself for completing the goal. I decided to focus less on weight overall after that. Weight and fitness do not always align, and that can be tough to swallow, especially as a woman.

      • Louise Kennedy

        This is an excellent point. In fact, if you check out the link to BMI info I posted, you’ll see that it includes a note that very muscular people will often have high BMIs — but that they are not, in fact, obese or overweight. It’s a good reason to focus on how you feel, not just what the scale says.

  • mhleta

    My (unsolicited) advice is to make even more room for exercise than you have here. There so much available that is fun and interesting–spinning, zumba, power yoga, Crossfit, boxing, etc. Once your brain gets a dose of those endorphins, you’ll be looking forward to your next workout, and your next and next. (There’s nothing that makes you feel as good about yourself as getting a good sweat going.) But don’t make that rookie mistake and overdo it in your first week or two and end up so sore you give up. Set yourself up for success by ramping up gradually (keep a fitness journal) so you’ll keep going. Also, invest in something that you’ll look forward to wearing for your workout–a new bathing suit, cool sneakers, cute yoga pants, etc–something that you feel good in. If the class has a mirror, DON’T compare yourself to others, or the teacher. They’ve been doing this forever. You’re new. You got yourself to the class, so feel good about that accomplishment. If you don’t want to do classes and want to try going it alone (not usually a great idea, but it works for some) but find the fitness equipment at the gym to be intimidating, make sure to get one or two personal training sessions in with an expert who can show you how to use the equipment and give you a few routines to start with. If this is the route you want to go, make a great playlist that you will look forward to listening to while on the bike or elliptical machine or treadmill. When you get tired of that list, add new songs, or make a new list. These are just a few tips I learned after spending my early adult years struggling with my weight. I’m 53 years old now, and can wear the same size I wore at age 30. My goal is to be a healthy and active old woman someday. Good luck you you, Louise! I’m pulling for you!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you! “To be a healthy and active old woman someday” is a terrific goal. I’m adding that to my vision of the future. And I appreciate your ideas for other activities, though I have to say that the sheer number of choices is part of what stops me from picking any one. That’s why I’m starting with just one. But I do hope that taking that one baby step will encourage me to take more.

      • DD

        I agree with you on the number of choices… I get overwhelmed.
        I want to try Zumba but my living room is most likely where that will happen. I guess I should follow my motto, why not?

  • Kathleen Sweeney

    One gentle suggestion – instead of having a goal about feeling a certain way ( “don’t feel ashamed of my weight”), you might try having a goal around noticing that feeling without judging it (something like “If I feel ashamed of my weight, remind myself that it’s only a data point and that I’m adding more data points that make me feel good.”) I find that for me, feeling bad about feeling bad makes it much harder to take constructive action. Good luck- I’m rooting for you!!

    • Louise Kennedy

      That’s such a good point, thank you! Noticing the behavior is the first step toward changing it, I think.

  • Lillian

    Hi Louise, many of my goals are close to yours. I am looking forward to reading more.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Good luck with your goals, and thanks for joining in!

  • Eneida

    I am hooked. Will be reading every Monday!
    My first goal is stop drinking coca cola. Want to go back to my lovely size 10…
    Frozen veggies okay? For start?
    Second goal: vegetarian cooking class
    Thank you for doing this!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Frozen veggies are fine! In winter they may even be better. Welcome to the team, and let’s have fun.

  • On Health Coaching

    Hi Louise it’s Laura McAughan, the health coach from last Monday’s comments. I love how your coach included for you the often overlooked task of crafting a vision! A vision is like a map reminding you of where you’d like to go and, more importantly, why you’re going there. Crafting a vision requires a little mindful awareness and quiet time, which seems counterintuitive when you’re trying to move forward with a plan of action. Some questions to help you along there: Close your eyes, take a breath and try to picture yourself 20 years down the road. In an ideal world, how does your life look? What is your energy level like? What is your demeanor, how do you interact with the world? Who are the people surrounding you how is your relationship with them? What words would you like for them to use in describing you? What personal qualities are you most proud of? My advice is that you put some effort into your vision for a healthy, fulfilled life – it’s the fuel for all the work to come, and you’ll return to it time and again this year for motivation. Good luck – we’re cheering for you :)

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thanks, Laura. This is very much what Allison was advising, and I’ll be talking about it more next week — along with my fear that I’m going “too slow” by doing all this big-picture work instead of just pushing myself into the gym right away. But I must say, I’ve tried that approach before and it doesn’t work, so I’m willing to think big. If I can just find the time … which is challenging during school vacation week! Step 1: Get off the computer.
      Thanks again, and I’m going to go take a deep breath.