If Not Weight Loss, Then What?

Celebrate Small VictoriesOne of the most common questions I get from people who are starting out with Health at Every Size is – if I’m not making weight loss goals, then what goals can I make? Considering the way that weight loss is advertised as the end all and be all of health (to the tune of Sixty Billion a year in profits to the diet industries) it’s not surprising that many people have never thought of making goals outside of that.

First of all, this is a post about Health at Every Size (HAES). Before I get into it I want to be clear about the difference between HAES and Size Acceptance.  Size Acceptance as a civil rights movement is based around the fact that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not size, health, or “healthy habit” dependent by any definitions thereof.  It says that fat people should be able to live in fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying and harassment.

Health at Every Size is an evidence-based paradigm for approaching personal health, public health, and healthcare.  Understanding that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control or guaranteed under any circumstances, HAES puts the focus on health and behaviors that support it (instead of body size and weight loss) as well as encompassing all aspects of health including ending stigma, oppression and lack of accessibility. That said, health is absolutely not an obligation or anybody else’s business unless we choose to make it their business, and nobody is required to practice Health at Every Size (or any other path to health) to be covered by Size Acceptance.  There’s a more complete explanation here.

So back to the question.  If you are interested in practicing HAES and you are interested in goal setting (and you don’t have to do so – many people focus on health without setting specific goals) you have lots of options. Before we get to the specifics, here are some general suggestions:

  • Make it an additive process rather than restrictive (so maybe “I’m going to do xyz” rather than “I’m never going to do abc ever again!”
  • This is a long term process and it’s not all or nothing, so don’t be afraid to try something, decide it doesn’t work for you, and then try something else.
  • Make changes over time – add one or two things and when they become a habit add one or two more things. Every spring emergency rooms fill up with people who decided to reach all of their lifetime fitness goals in one day.  I would suggest that being the fittest person in traction might not be the best goal.
  • Consider making goals that around doing things that make you happy.
  • Celebrate lots.  It may sound cheesy but celebrating victories early and often can really help you with your goals.
  • Remember that this is a lifelong journey and sometimes we’ll make choices based on what seems like the best thing for our health, and sometimes we’ll make decisions for different reasons and that’s totally ok.
  • Blame, shame, stigma, and guilt are not good for your health, the only thing that we can do is keep a forward focus.
  • Throughout your life, and especially if you’re just starting HAES, your weight may shift.  When people start to practice Health at Every Size some people’s weight goes up, some goes down, some stay the same.  The idea behind HAES is that we focus on behaviors and health (based on our own choices about prioritization) and let our weight settle where it does, so feel free to chuck your scale.

Here are some suggestions for specific goal setting, as always your mileage may vary:

You can make the behaviors themselves the goal. (Some people use some or all of the habits from Matheson et. al. Don’t smoke, drink in moderation, 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, exercising regularly etc. Some people choose behaviors around movement, sleep, drinking water, doing specific activities that they enjoy, etc.  Whatever behaviors you decide on, you can make them your goal and celebrate each time you succeed by doing them, create a list to check off, give yourself gold star stickers, whatever works!

For fitness/movement goals, you can also take a “baseline” for things like perceived exertion (how tired you are during/at the end of a workout), heart rate, number or duration of an activity you can perform, ability to do an activity etc. and then note how you improve over time. You can even set yourself up a little baseline test and record the information and then repeat the test at regular intervals to see how you’ve improved.

You can set a goal that’s currently out of your reach (a duration of activity, a weight to lift (whether it’s x number of pounds or your grandkid or whatever) , a number of repetitions of an activity (X number of pushups; x number of feet/blocks/miles walked or rolled in your wheelchair etc.) and then work towards it, celebrating your progress along the way.

You can start a program (like couch to 5k, 100 push ups, or whatever movement you are interested in) and use those milestones as goals.

Some people choose to get their bloodwork taken at regular intervals and look for improvements. If you go this route, it’s important to be aware that some things are genetic and so may or may not change with behavior changes.

Those are a few ideas, feel free to leave your HAES-based goal ideas in the comments. If you are interested in more discussions like this, you can check out the Fit Fatties Forum and Fit Fatties Facebook page – we welcome anyone, of any size, who wants to discuss fitness from a weight-neutral, Health at Every Size perspective.

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8 thoughts on “If Not Weight Loss, Then What?

  1. I think it’s incredibly sad that our society has become so obsessed with weight that we have trouble even imagining any other goal to work towards.

    We can work towards greater strength, stamina, or flexibility. We can work towards learning a new skill. We can work towards succeeding at a specific activity like a marathon or a dance competition. We can work towards better nutrition, not just less food consumed. We can aim to reduce stress in our lives. We can work to ease chronic pain or to recover from an accident or illness.

    There are so many possibilities other than the Sysiphean goal of weight loss.

  2. True. I was trying to lose weight for the longest time. One day, about two years ago, I just told myself that I wasn’t going to do that anymore and shifted my diet to accommodate my health needs instead of wealth loss. After I stopped caring about my weight, in addition to being much happier I actually lost 25 lbs 🙂

  3. I love setting realistic and generous time goals for the races I participate in so that I can beam and brag about beating my time goal, though I’m unlikely to place in any race.

    At my second half marathon last year, I’d set an X-hour time goal and was sad to come in at X:04:00 until I looked back at how miserable and lonely and unmotivated I was at the start of the race that morning; the long, lonely, empty, shade-free course; the overuse knee injury that had plagued me and inhibited my training for 6 months; the last mile I’d spent limping and sobbing in agony and seriously contemplating dropping for help; the obnoxiously steep uphill final stretch; and all the money I’d raised for LLS. All things considered, that X:04 was effing badass, and an ~18 minute improvement over my first half marathon less than two months prior.

  4. I don’t set goals anymore, I want to feel good in my body. Moving it around and eating well most of the time works perfectly.
    I used to weigh and measure very day. I threw away my scale. If I feel good, I am succeeding

  5. There are so many goals other than weight loss! One of mine was to do the Angel’s Landing trail in Zion National Park because I wanted to see the views from the top myself. I researched the hike and then tailored my workouts for four months to build up the muscles I was going to need, especially for the rock scramble at the end.

    Some of my favorite pictures of me are from the top – sweaty, disheveled, lumpy, and smiling like nobody’s business because I DID IT. (And came back down safely.)

    I’m hoping to go back this fall and do the Observation Point Trail, which has slightly different challenges, so I’ve already added in more uphill work in anticipation. Even if the scheduling doesn’t work out, it’s all still good.

  6. My last goal was doing a 10k and it felt sooooo good when I finsihed it.

    I always find it sad that I have not found a gym yet that does NOT focus on weight loss. There are so many other advantages to exercising, and yet…

  7. For several reasons I’ve been slacking off on my weight training lately but when I was doing it regularly my goals were to increase reps and weight lifted. It was immensely satisfying each time I was able to increase the amount I lifted. I’m planning to start up again regularly next week. I was reminded this week of how useful being able to lift things is. My dog had a medical emergency and I’ve had to lift her a lot the past few days and she weighs just shy of 50lbs (she’s already recovering, it’s basically really bad vertigo so she’s had no balance).

    My boyfriend also loves to hike and I’m looking forward to doing that with him once there is less snow on the ground. I haven’t been hiking in years.

  8. I want to be able to run a whole mile without stopping. My record before February covered everything in icey doom was 10 minutes in a row, so I think I’m almost there 🙂

    And I’d really like to be able to do a pushup someday, but as nothing seems to increase my strength there (yes, I do wall pushups, and desk pushups, and I build up to about 10 desk pushups and then can’t do anymore), I’m focusing on the whole running thing since that seems to be going kind of bafflingly well.

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