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Setting Different Goals

On Tuesday, we talked about how Olympic athlete Shawn Johnson succumbed to tabloid pressure to lose weight, even though her (slight) weight gain was completely normal.  In the article, she’s quoted as saying

“I was at the Olympic Games winning medals and I still doubted my image, I doubted what I looked like. That’s sad. Girls should be taught different than that. I think everyone should be taught different than that.”

I think so too. We’ve all seen evidence in our own lives that weight gain and loss is more complex than the simple “calories in/calories out” formula that’s been spouted at us for years.  We all know someone who is naturally slender that eats all the junk food they want and rarely (if ever) exercises, yet they manage to maintain their low weight.  And many of us have followed diet and exercise plans religiously only to find that the scale doesn’t move.  I’m not going to try to discourage anyone from trying to lose weight, that’s a personal choice.  But I’d like you to take the time to think about setting goals in a different way.

So many times, we set a goal for something like “lose 20 lbs by summer” and then have eating right and exercising regularly as the steps to reach that goal.  Then when we have a hard time reaching that goal, we go back to our previous unhealthy habits because the diet and exercise plan isn’t “working” for us.  But what if we’re looking at it backwards?

What if you set a goal of getting 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week?  You might lose weight, you might not, but regardless of what the scale says, exercise is still good for you.  What if you set a goal of getting 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day?  Even if you don’t make any other changes, that’s still healthier than eating junk food all of the time.

The other great thing about setting your goals this way is that when you don’t reach your goal, you’re not any further from reaching it the next time you attempt it.  So say your goal is to walk for 30 minutes, 5 days a week.  Even if you only walk 3 days this week, it’s still better than you were doing before, and it’s not any harder to reach that 5 days next week than it was this week.  But if your goal is to get to a certain weight, if you gain 2 pounds this week you’re that much further away from your goal and it’s even harder to reach that goal than it was when you set it.

Now for what science has to say about all of this:

According to a study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Physicians, by participating in 4 simple healthy habits, the risk of mortality is leveled across all weights.  You can read the full study here, and toward the end (it’s labeled page 13) there’s a nice bar graph that shows how dramatically these 4 simple habits affect people, especially those with a BMI over 30.

So what are those habits?

  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products
  • Drink moderately (no more than 1 drink a day for women, 2 a day for men)
  • Get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • Exercise more than 12 times per month

My favorite part?  Most of us already do at least one of these things.  And even if you work on one habit at a time, you’re still improving your health and reducing your risk.

Tell us!  What small change are you going to make to improve your health?





  1. Bobby Gentry

    I work at making sure I get out and do something physical – walking, playing in the park, gardening with my hubby, dancing with the WII – at least a couple times a week. I remember when playing was fun. Then when I became an adult exercising was a pain…. So, I’m going back to playing… More fun that way. 🙂


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