Better health (less mass) as performance improvement

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.)

♦ ♦ ♦

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.

6 thoughts on “Better health (less mass) as performance improvement

  1. I was just out looking at this today (for something completely different), but your post reminded me of it:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the multi-faceted approach lately – feel like we need better tools for that. Right now, it still feels to me that there is still too much focus on Tools > How can I use this? and not enough Challenge > What tools can I use?

  2. Julie, I took way too long to write this one. It was mainly a process of figuring out what not to say, and that can be hard for me.

    I do think that many people, perhaps especially the analytical or technical by nature, lean toward “how can I use this tool?” They like using tools. That’s not an either-or thing; most likely the satisfaction that comes from successful application of a given tool tends to reinforce experimentation with tools generally, at least for some people.

    But toolophilia can lead people to disdain approaches that don’t incorporate their favorite tools. Thus the notion that an iPhone is inherently superior to any other smartphone, let alone some combination of cell phone, PDA, and notepad.

    That’s part of the research base I mentioned: do you have any reason for expecting that this tool / approach / method can work in this circumstance? And even with that, you have to go against human inclination. I know that point-tracking and daily weigh-in can both contribute to lowering weight and maintaining the improved level, but I’m none too disciplined about the point tracking.

    Fortunately (and this is part of the multiple-approach benefit), my wife is diligent about her tracking, and seeing that in action reminds me of what I say I should be doing as well.

    The behavior grid is interesting, enough that I may turn it into a post, now that I’m on a streak of one for the month so far.

  3. I think that also healthophilia would fit here – people who disdain approaches that don’t incorporate their favorite health plan! ;-)

    I love weight watchers, it has worked for me. The LoseIt App helped for a while, but something about facing that scale does it for me!

    Thank you for a great post!

  4. Vicki,

    I like “healthophilia” a lot. I think we’re all prone to think that the way we see things is the way people ought to see them.

    One way to usefully harness the tendency, I think, is to use it as a way to adopt techniques that help you achieve your goals. I weight myself every morning, before breakfast. And I record the number in a spreadsheet. Those two behaviors (measuring and recording) become a self-reinforcing habit. When I miss a day, I fill in the gap by averaging out from the numbers that bracket that gap.

    In addition, to ground myself in reality, I have a line chart produced by my spreadsheet. With more than 180 days of data, I can see an overall tendency (down!) that helps me recover from any short-term lack of progress.

    Not everyone wants to weigh himself every day, and not everyone wants to draw a graph. That’s fine. They’re just two things that keep me in the game.

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