Saturday, March 20, 2010

What is success? - part 1

Defining success on a weight loss journey is tough. So what is it?

I've been thinking about this, but decided to look up the official definition to see if that shed any light on what exactly success is.
success (n): the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted
Do you think that accurately captures what success is, or what it means to be successful? The truth is, I'm not sure. I think it is all in the way you state the goal. If my goal is stated as wanting to lose weight, I am not sure if this definition is complete enough. This is because, according to the definition, the moment I reach my goal weight I would have succeeded since I achieved what it is that I desired (and yes it took a lot of planning to do, and yes, there were several unsuccessful attempts but finally one that worked). However, if I lose the weight only to gain it back, I think that -- according to the definition above -- I have been successful since the goal was at one point reached. However, personally, I would not consider that a success.

I think that for the definition above to fit my personal situation, I would need to modify the statement of my goal. My goal is to reach a healthy weight, be very physically fit, and to maintain both my fitness and my weight at healthy levels.

However, I struggle with this. Can the modified statement above actually be achieved? That is, this statement implies that my goal has no endpoint, or point at which you can actually stamp a "done" on it, and file it away in your list of life accomplishments. I do not know exactly which post he mentioned it on, but Tony -- one of my favorite weight loss bloggers -- talked about the journey that is being healthy and shredded different weight loss analogies and metaphors (if anyone knows the post I am talking about, please let me know and I will put up a link to it).

I think we could all agree that losing weight is not a sprint. Despite the ads you see telling you that you can lose 50 lbs in a month, the reality is that most of us cannot. Even among those who can, they probably are unlikely to sustain that type of loss for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, I highly doubt that most of the approaches that are even capable of producing such dramatic and quick weight loss are healthy. Many of those rapid weight-loss supplements are dangerous, and some can even be fatal (xenadrine comes to mind, for example). Therefore, I do not see any way that long-term, healthy weight loss could be considered a sprint.

Many people consider weight-loss a marathon. But is it? I don't think so. A marathon is long and grueling, just like weight loss is for those of us who start out morbidly obese. However, a marathon has a finish line. Once you hobble across that 26.2 mile mark, you've done it. You've joined the ranks of the elite. Although there are many places to celebrate along the weight loss journey, there is no ultimate finish line. I doubt if I will ever be cured of my addiction to food. I hope to be sober and to no longer have it define me just like alcoholics can break free of their addictions. However, I doubt if I will ever have a truly normal relationship with food. I hope I am selling myself short and that it is possible, but at this step of the game I don't really foresee that. I see no finish line to this weigh loss journey. Even if I reach the numerical goal I set for myself (not entirely sure, but I'm envisioning something around the 160-180 mark), I really don't think I will consider that a success. I think it will be a significant milestone on my path to success, for sure, but for me I think staying at this goal will be real success -- and this has no finish line. Therefore, I absolutely do not think that weight loss is like a marathon. No finish line, at least for me.

So what *is* losing weight like? I think it is like paddling upstream. There are times when it is easy, and progress is fast. There are times where you feel lazy or tired or life is just too much, and you lose some ground for awhile paddling against the current -- but ultimately, there is no ending. It requires constant effort and vigilance on your part. It gets easier with time, and you learn tricks along the way that make it less of a burden. But you definitely can't stop working on it and expect to stay where you are forever without effort.

With this metaphor of losing weight being like paddling upstream in mind, how would you define success in such an endeavor? To be honest, I am not sure...but I am going to continue to think about it, and will probably post a followup or followups at some point soon.

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