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How to Discover and Reach Your Ideal Weight

by | Aug 23, 2016
Photo by foshydog

Photo by foshydog

When I was a dieter I always had a goal weight that I thought would change my life. I’d get on the scale (if I was brave enough) and would hold my breath as I watched the needle move, calculating in my mind how many pounds away I was from happiness.

In retrospect I don’t know what I expected to happen at that magic number. If I had been less delusional I might have acknowledged that the few times I did manage to reach my goal I instantly adjusted it a few pounds downward, the flicker of joy suppressed by the sudden realization that an even smaller pair of jeans may be in my future.

Ugh. Dieting is the worst.

Okay, so what if you’re done with the dieting neurosis but still want to lose weight for health reasons? Is there a target or ideal weight you should shoot for?

Read the rest of this story »

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Healthstyle Milestones: What Are Your Health Goals?

by | Oct 11, 2010
By woodleywonderworks

By woodleywonderworks

Abandoning the idea of “going on a diet” is one of the most difficult and important adjustments to make when you are trying to lose weight and improve your health. To achieve and maintain your fitness goals, learning to think in the long-term instead of the short-term is a necessity.

We’ve been conditioned to think about our health as a temporary endeavor. When we find ourselves getting a bit out of shape we assume we need to start a new diet plan and maybe join a gym or cardio class.

“But, you know, things are busy right now and I’ll get to it in a couple weeks when I have more time.”

Even if we do start the plan and lose some weight, how long will it be before we slip back into our old routine and the pounds creep back on?

If you learn only one thing from Summer Tomato I hope it’s that diets don’t work. Calorie restriction in any form can induce temporary weight loss, but the vast majority of people emerge worse off than before they subjected themselves to the difficult and demoralizing task of losing weight and inevitably gaining it (plus a little extra) back.

The science is painfully clear that only long-term and consistent healthy lifestyle choices result in permanent weight loss and improved health.

To really win this war you need to shift your focus from short-term diets and weight loss goals to lifelong habits that promote good nutrition and a healthy metabolism–changes that, in my opinion, should be welcome and enjoyable.

It is never too late (or too early) to get started on your upgrade.

But once you’ve made the commitment to a better healthstyle, how do you know you are making progress without the specific goals and endpoints you get from a temporary diet plan?

This is an excellent question and something worth taking a minute to think about. The answer will be different for everyone and depend substantially on where you start and how you define success.

An example of a fantastic healthstyle goal would be getting off cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes medication, something attainable by the majority of people taking them. For others the goal may be avoiding meds in the first place by reaching a healthy body mass index (BMI). Health goals like these are obviously a first priority for anyone facing them.

But healthstyle is not just for people with serious health problems. After all, the “normal” BMI range is pretty lenient and you may still have the goal of fitting back into a certain pant size or reaching a specific body fat percentage. These are certainly reasonable goals, especially when you are not approaching them from an all-or-none, feast or famine mentality.

But in my experience, specific number-oriented goals have little stay power when health is your top priority.

When you focus on eating delicious, healthy foods and getting regular exercise (in any form), as the months and years pass goals like reaching a certain body weight or jeans size start to feel a bit contrived. This isn’t because physical appearance or achievements aren’t important, but as your metabolism changes and your body gets healthier it becomes clear that you can feel and look a lot better than you ever really imagined.

What exactly defines the perfect weight or size anyway?

I am not trying to trivialize specific fitness goals nor the effort required to attain them. If you’ve read my diet history you know that I am not immune to aspirations like these. But over time feeling good becomes a more meaningful and satisfying goal than fitting into your jeans. And in my experience, the more energy I put into being healthy and living well, the smaller my jeans get anyway.

For awhile now my healthstyle goals have had little to do with body weight. Instead I choose to focus on habits I can develop that will improve my life and health overall. These include cultivating my cooking skills, learning to eat mindfully and figuring out the best lunch for an awesome afternoon workout.

Here are some of my recent healthstyle goals, which are changing constantly.

This article was originally published Oct 26, 2009, and I have left the original goals intact. However I have added my new list of 2010 goals below so you can see how my healthstyle has evolved. I’m happy to see that I’ve made progress on many of my goals from last year, and most of my new goals reflect bigger life changes that have occurred in the past year.

Healthstyle Goals 2009

  • Experiment with new vegetables
  • Recreate favorite restaurant dishes at home
  • Get enough sleep
  • Try new spices
  • Eat slowly and mindfully
  • Find great foodie resources in my neighborhood
  • Get away from my computer at least twice per day
  • Make friends with farmers
  • Seek new challenges at the gym
  • Take the stairs even when I don’t feel like it
  • Learn new cooking techniques
  • Get new pans
  • Discover fabulous restaurants
  • Recognize and avoid overeating cues
  • Take advantage of seasonal produce
  • Eat more legumes
  • Prevent food cravings with good nutrition
  • Eat more fish
  • Take more walks
  • Use usual ingredients in unusual ways
  • Eat better when out of town
  • Cook more ethnic cuisines
  • Get more sun
  • Develop a taste for my least favorite foods
  • Make more soup
  • Cook more for friends
  • Eat out less than twice per week

Healthstyle Goals 2010

  • Adjust to more frequent dining out
  • Cook more at home (this is harder these days)
  • Improve at cooking for two
  • Buy more cookbooks
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Get better sleep
  • Explore tea
  • Cook more soup
  • Eat slowly, even when very hungry
  • Optimize food storage
  • Practice meditation
  • Cook more for friends
  • Eat well and exercise while traveling
  • Share great food discoveries
  • Make friends with more farmers

What are your healthstyle goals?

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Body Fat Is Healthy Now? Fat Chance

by | Jun 29, 2009
1 lb Fat

1 lb Fat

Last week the New York Times and many other reputable news sources reported on a Canadian study that claims people with a normal body mass index (BMI) had a slightly increased risk of dying over a 12-year period than those with a BMI in the overweight range (25-29).

The use of the phrase “overweight was protective” landed this article just a hair’s width from being labeled Summer Tomato’s B.S. of the week on Friday. An observational study cannot determine cause and effect, as implied by the word “protective.” This study does not prove that extra body weight protects against all cause mortality, and saying so is irresponsible.

Studies (and reporting) like this have instigated wide-spread confusion about health and body weight. First people are told they are too heavy and should lose weight for health, then in the same breath they are told a little extra weight might not be so bad.

What is the average person supposed to believe? How should we act?

If you want to understand the facts it important to know exactly what the data does and does not say. Indeed, some studies (including one on Japanese men reported in the same issue of Obesity) have reported lower or equal risk of mortality for people with an overweight BMI compared to people of normal BMI (18.5-24). However, this is not the whole story.

First, the alleged benefit of being overweight has only been found in older individuals and does not apply to healthy, young people. Second, although it appears in some cases that overall mortality may be reduced, disease incidence is notably higher in overweight individuals compared to people of normal weight.

bmi-and-chd

To point, a study in the most recent issue of Obesity (same journal, 2 weeks later) examines the relationship of BMI with many measures of cardiovascular disease in healthy, athletic men. In this study, those on the lowest end of BMI in the normal range (18.5-22.5) had a much lower risk of dying from or developing cardiovascular disease than normal weight men with a slightly higher BMI (22.5-25).

Men with the lowest healthy BMIs also had lower risk of hypertension, lower cholesterol and half the risk of diabetes. While the length of this study was only 7.7 years (compared to the 12 years reported in the Times story), there were more than double the number of participants (28,776 vs. 11,834).

(Why did this story not make the news? My guess is that it makes for a less compelling storyline and people would rather not hear it.)

Mortality is certainly an important measure in any study, but it is arguably not the most relevant endpoint. Disease and excess body weight can severely impact quality of life, particularly for older individuals (as illustrated by another study in the latest issue of Obesity). While I cannot speak for everyone, it seems probable that quality of life is equally if not more important than longevity alone. Thus it is questionable how much stock to put into studies that ignore these other factors.

It is also critical to remember that BMI is a measure that was designed to describe people at a population level, not as individuals. While large cohort studies can tell us useful things about relative risk, they are not directly applicable to individual people.

The inconsistency of the data related to BMI and mortality may in fact be an indication of its inadequacy as a general measurement. Remember that BMI represents a ratio between height and weight, making it possible to compare people of various body sizes. Normalizing for height may, however, be deceptive.

Decades of data on caloric restriction consistently show that smaller body size (irrespective of body fat levels and, possibly, BMI) is associated with longer life and decreased risk of nearly all diseases. This is true in all animals from yeast, to worms and flies, to mice and monkeys. While humans are certainly different from all these model organisms, there is tremendous evolutionary precedent indicating smaller body size as the best for health.

The principle of parsimony tells us the simplest hypothesis–that smaller body size is beneficial–is probably correct. Substantial evidence must be accumulated before this hypothesis can be rejected, and I have yet to see that data.

Furthermore, while the research on the risk of overweight may be slightly ambiguous, the data on obesity is not. It is painfully clear that the dangers of obesity are profound and on par with those of smoking cigarettes. Overweight is a necessary step to becoming obese, and according to the National Population Health Survey nearly a quarter of Canadians who were overweight in 1994/1995 were obese by 2002/2003. Since overweight is still a substantial risk factor for becoming obese, misleading public health messages about the benefits of body fat are especially dangerous.

As a consumer of information, the most important thing you can do is be skeptical of what you read. Just because something is printed in the New York Times does not make it true. In fact, many of our most trusted sources of health information do not base their recommendations on rigorous scientific thinking, which is probably the reason for the health disaster we are currently facing.

Thanks to Jan from Quest for Health for sparking this discussion.

What does your gut tell you about the relationship between health and body fat?

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