My previous post talked about goals related to a complex problem. I even reframed the problem, from “losing weight” to “being in good shape.” Yes, there are still covert qualifiers, but the main thrust is: poke and prod a problem statement for a while. This is what Joe Harless had in mind with his dictum that an ounce of analysis is worth a pound of objectives.
You want to look for some evidence that the possible causes are in fact contributing to the problem. Evidence is what helps prevent cause-jumping, charging full-tilt toward a solution based on the cause you’re sure is at work.
Outside of its meaning in Morocco, Louis Renault’s order to round up the usual suspects is not all that different from prescribing doses of training to solve some pressing on-the-job problem.
I’ve been studying Weight Watchers as one multifaceted approach to losing weight, whether as an end in itself or as part of an overall goal of good health. I see a cluster of “health skills” that are like constituent skills from Ten Steps to Complex Learning:
- Eat smart (when you’re in charge)
- Dine smart (as a guest, in a restaurant, at a party)
- Shop smart (at the grocery store)
- Cook smart
- Live smart (get along with those you live with)
I’m sure there are plenty of others, and not all apply to everyone: maybe you don’t cook much and don’t want to. The various tools and approaches used by Weight Watchers work in different ways as part of a performance system.
For example, they rate food by points based on fiber, calories, and fat. You calculate your own point allowance based on your age, your height, your sex, your activity level, and your starting weight. My initial “point budget” was 33% higher than my wife’s. That meant I didn’t start out feeling as though I was going to starve to death.
Performance standards: I haven’t yet done the math, but I’m pretty sure your point allowance aligns with the Mayo Clinic’s strategy of setting a realistic goal for weight loss. To lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, they say, you need to burn 500 – 1,000 more calories per day than you take in.
Monitoring and feedback: By tracking your points, you’re increasing your awareness of what you eat. I use a third-party app on my phone, but there are also paper checklists, including some with a grid to track your state of mind throughout the day (full, satisfied, hungry).
Social support: people like my wife participate in weekly meetings, with the benefit of both the meeting leader and the other people working through the program. For me, it’s mainly the fact that the two of us have collaborated (for four months now).
Process change: in a series of 10 booklets, the program offers quick-start tips, menu ideas (with points already calculated), suggestions for increasing your physical activity, and even strategies based on the particular problems or setbacks you identify in yourself.
In a related change, we spend about 45 minutes each weekend picking out dinner recipes for the week, then building a grocery list based on those menus. (An unexpected discovery: many of the recipes in Jacques Pépin’s cookbooks fit our “point budgets” just as they come. This one I estimate at 6 points per serving; my daily allowance is 32.)
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I don’t want to turn this post into a dieting column. Really, I’m looking at a number of ways to go about accomplishing what Tom Gilbert would call a worthwhile result. And part of the point is that long-term, significant performance requires a wide variety of interventions. Some are pretty straightforward, procedural skills: learn to manage portion size; always track points. Some are more situational.
Most, if not all, have evidence to support their value. Whether that evidence is pertinent to you is something else. Evidence suggests, for instance, that frequent monitoring of weight (like weighing yourself daily) helps you progress and also maintain the new weight once you reach your goal. Helps, not guarantees. But stepping on the scale every day isn’t usually too strenuous.
CC-licensed photo of retro scale by teresia.