15 Aug Goal-setting: Losing a bunch of weight a day at a time
I have struggled to manage my weight throughout my life, starting at a very young age. I was overweight as a kid, probably up until the age of 15. Over the past 30 years or so, my weight has fluctuated pretty significantly. I’ve gone as low as 185 about three years ago to as high as 235 during college. I’m only 5’11” on a good day, so carrying over 200 pounds can be challenging in a number of ways. Most importantly, I don’t like the way I feel when I put on extra weight. I don’t always like the way I look, either. When I have maintained my ideal weight is probably about 190 pounds, there have been two common denominators in the equation. First, I eat mindfully and not emotionally. Second, I exercise on a regular basis. Without either of these pillars, I find it very difficult to maintain a desirable weight.
The catalyst for this post is that I have gained 25 to 30 pounds over the past two years. In September 2017, I had cervical spine fusion surgery, which significantly limited my exercise for about six months. Then in April 2019, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my left hip, which also has put a damper on my exercise routine for the past three months or so. In between, I gravitated back to less-than-ideal dietary habits. I have a sweet tooth and ice cream became a regular “treat” for me. I also found myself drinking alcohol more liberally, often having a drink or two on weeknights when I had rarely drank at all going back three, four, and five years ago. More fundamentally, I just became nonchalant about what I had been putting in my body. Frankly, it was just more convenient to eat and drink whatever I wanted. I have always been an emotional eater. Food is a great escape and a reward for hard work and sacrifice. Even with daily exercise, the chances of me maintaining my ideal weight with these types of eating habits are almost zero. As I’ve heard it said over and over, I cannot exercise my way out of a bad diet ant that abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. UGH.
I have been contemplating making a change in my nutritional habits for some time. However, I have been mostly thinking and not doing too much to change. The Transtheoretical Model of Change posits that individuals go through multiple stages of thinking before actually committing to the intention to change and then taking action (Leffingwell, Rider, & Williams, 2001). I was the poster boy for this theory. Get out of the shower, get on the scale or look in the mirror and say to myself, “I need to lose some weight.” I would then proceed to eat handfuls of M&Ms, large ice creams, and drink adult beverages at the beach because it felt good. I just wasn’t ready for change, although it sounded good. Then one day recently, I was talking to one of my healthcare providers about my arthritic left hip and she said, “You need to lose some weight in order to reduce the stress on your hip. You need to start eating differently immediately.” Uh oh. Someone called me out and now I couldn’t rationalize my choices as easily anymore. This simple, yet stinging suggestion, was the catalyst for me to deliver on the third and fourth stages of the Transtheoretical Model: preparation and action (Leffingwell et al., 2001).
I fancy myself as someone who “walks the walk,” so to speak. If I coach others to use tangible mental skills to solve performance issues, then I must do the same. I have no credibility as a practitioner if I tell somebody to do something that I don’t actually do myself. In this situation, I felt that having a clear goal-setting program would be critical to achieving a successful outcome. Research has found that “goal-setting enhances self-monitoring effectiveness” (Baron & Watters, 1981, p. 167). Varying opinions existing about the effectiveness of using “SMART” (specific, measurable, adjustable, realistic, time-bound) goal-setting. I won’t get into the weeds regarding this topic. Yet, I will say that SMART goals are a simple framework for a weight loss program. As I will describe, my weight loss goal-setting focuses more on actions (i.e., productive behaviors) and less on outcomes (i.e., weight loss results). Nonetheless, outcomes are important because they provide data regarding whether the actions taken are actually effective. If I do the same thing every day and I don’t see the desired change in results, then what I’m actually doing probably isn’t ideal. Yet, I know if I get too caught up in outcomes (i.e., what I cannot control), then I may get frustrated and abandon ship. I also know that if I am able to accumulate positive actions on a daily basis that my self-esteem and self-efficacy (i.e., ability to be successful in this specific task) will increase and provide an overarching motivation to continue on even if I’m not getting the results I want right away.
So, what have I done to achieve my goals? you might ask. Before I run down what I am doing now to achieve my weight loss goal, I think it’s important to note that the research on using goal setting for weight management purposes indicates that the intention to pursue weight loss goals is often dictated by one’s belief that they will actually be able to lose weight (Bagozzi & Edwards, 1998). I have been successful in losing weight in the past, both on my own and with the help others (e.g., nutritionist, fitness trainer, etc.). I am comfortable stating that I proceeded with my weight loss pursuit in part because I have first-hand evidence that success is possible. Like anything that humans do, the first time doing that thing can be very daunting because we don’t know what to expect, including whether or not we can successfully achieve our goal.
So, being moderately experienced in the art of and science of weight loss, I have dusted off my old playbook and added some new wrinkles given my current situation. First and most fundamentally, I needed to cut my daily caloric intake. Generally speaking, weight loss happens when energy expenditures exceed calories consumed (Baron & Watters, 1981). I had easily been consuming over 2,000 calories per day. Yet, I wasn’t tracking my calories, but I was reasonably comfortable that my daily intake easily exceeded 2,000 calories. I decided to start by reducing my intake to 1,800 gross calories per day (measurable) as a trial point. I don’t know if this is the “right” calorie goal but seems like a reasonable starting point (realistic) so far. And, if not, then I could modify the goal going forward (adjustable). Reducing my caloric intake to this number also meant that I would benefit from taking two other specific actions: limiting or eliminating both refined sugars and alcohol from my diet. UGH. I have done this before, but frankly I don’t enjoy it. However, I know if I don’t monitor these two behaviors, then I am unlikely to achieve my caloric intake goal on the days I choose to eat ice cream or drink beer.
The non-dietary side of the equation includes exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, tracking all of my meals in the My Fitness Pal app, and weighing in every morning. While I would consider these actions to be “secondary” process goals, each is critical for me as I personally find a correlation between acting in a consistent, diligent way in all aspects of my life with my overall success with any performance goals. One analogy might be showing up to all of your classes, but not actually doing the course reading. For me, it’s nearly impossible for me to get the desired results from a weight-loss program without embarking on a comprehensive behavior change program. In essence, losing weight becomes less about dieting behaviors and more about a lifestyle shift in service of some bigger purpose (e.g., improving health, feeling better).
When I started my program about two weeks ago, I immediately put together a goal-tracking spreadsheet that allowed me to monitor my behaviors and outcomes in one place. I find that having to be accountable to myself by tracking my behaviors every day is a critical component of any successful performance program. You will see in Figure 1 that desirable results in my tracking sheet are marked by a plus (+) symbol and green font and undesirable results are marked by a minus (-) symbol and red font. Thirteen days in, I populated a total of 121 cells in my tracking spreadsheet. Of those 121 cells, 104 are green cells and 17 are red cells, which represents an 86% success rate. However, 65 cells represent process actions that I have full control over. Out of these 65 cells, I have 13 red cells indicating that I have chosen to act poorly about 20% of the time despite understanding the potential negative consequences. Nevertheless, I have seen positive results in the first two weeks or so as I’ve lost a total of 6.8 pounds or roughly 25% of my goal of reaching 190 pounds (i.e., losing 25 pounds) by December 31, 2019 (specific, measurable, time-bound). I know from prior experiences that it becomes more difficult to lose weight as I get closer to achieving my goal. Thus, being more successful in achieving my daily process goals will become more critical as the days and weeks pass.
So, let’s call this edition of my weight-loss experiment Chapter One . I will post updates on my progress periodically through my goal target date of December 31, 2019. I welcome any comments or questions that you have about my weight-loss, whether practical or theoretical, along the way. I’m always looking for better ways to do things. My Twitter handle is mh4375 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading.
Bagozzi, R.P., & Edwards, E.A. (1998). Goal setting and goal pursuit in the regulation of body weight. Psychology and Health, 13(4), 593-621.
Baron, P., & Watters, R.G. (1981). Effects of goal-setting and of goal levels on weight loss induced by self-monitoring of caloric intake. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 13(2), 161-170.
Leffingwell, T.R., Rider, S.P., and Williams, J.M. (2001). Applications of the transtheoretical model to psychological skills training. The Sport Psychologist, 15, 168-187.