Quit Using Weight Loss as Your Go-To Example of Goal Setting
Imagine you’re explaining the concept of goals to someone from outer space. You have two minutes. The alien needs to understand the movement from Point A (setting a goal) to Point B (achieving said goal). What example did you use? Was it weight loss? Odds are high.
I am so sick of people using the desire to lose x amount of pounds as the example they keep in their back pocket anytime the topic of goal setting or objectives comes up.
If you haven’t noticed. Start paying attention. It happens all the time.
Just today, I was browsing feedback on student submissions in an online course and noticed the feedback below. In explaining the difference between a research objective and a research question, the teacher immediately went to a weight loss example to illustrate their point.
A simple Google search for goal setting will find plenty more examples to prove my point.
This blog claims to have conducted the “survey of surveys” to determine the most common self-improvement goals. Guess what tops the list? Yup, weight loss.
Look at everything below weight loss on that list. Is losing weight really more important than finding your purpose in life, becoming more skillful, improving our relationships, AND developing a deeper level of commitment to drive and challenge ourselves?
It’s maddening and it’s sad that as a culture, we are collectively more interested in reducing a number on a scale, or being defined as “normal” by a faulty measurement like the BMI, than we are in being skillful, purposeful, driven, and loving individuals.
And it’s not our fault. It takes incredible resolve to resist.
In one of the top Google hits, James Clear’s article, Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals, he writes, “Who wouldn’t want to write a best-selling book or lose weight or earn more money? Everybody wants to achieve these goals.”
Is that true though? Does everybody want to achieve those goals? If they didn’t want to lose weight before, reading that will surely make them feel like they should.
The objective of thinness is so deeply embedded in our culture that we assume that everyone wants to become smaller.
But guess what, some people don’t want to lose weight. Yes, even if they’re not already thin. Some people have done the deeply painful and challenging work of unlearning diet culture and learning to have a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies — no matter their size. These people have liberated themselves from the restrictive requirements of what our bodies must look like in order to be loved, or for some, treated with dignity.
For people like myself, who do this work and still end up existing in a small body with the thin privilege that affords, it’s much easier. I don’t get harassed for my size, demeaned by trolls, treated badly on planes, or any of the other awful injustices experienced by those in larger bodies.
Side Note: I can’t speak to the experience of existing in a larger body, but if you want to learn from people who can like I have, here are some people to follow on Instagram: Virgie Tovar, Jessamyn Stanley, Jes Baker, and Megan Jayne Crabbe. I also suggest you follow Your Fat Friend on Medium and read the book Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison and this article by Matt McGorry.
What does this have to do with you using weight loss as an example of a SMART goal to your class of 9th graders? Or using the example of losing ten pounds to help your employees understand how to fill in a goal-setting rubric?
As someone who has recovered from an eating disorder, I can tell you that these examples tested my resolve. I was fighting to remind myself every day that life is for living, that I didn’t want the inscription on my tombstone to fondly remember how strict I was with what I ate, or how wonderful it was that I exercised so incessantly.
By making the assumption that it’s a universally acceptable and understandable goal to want to become smaller, you reinforce and legitimate that desire for everyone. You invade our mind space with thoughts of manipulating our bodies and remind us that it’s not okay to be happy with ourselves just the way we are.
Given that eating disorders are the mental illness with the highest mortality rate and every 62 minutes at least one person in the United States dies as a direct result of an eating disorder we need to stop glorifying thinness and demonizing fatness, even through silly examples that you probably think don’t matter.
It’s fatphobic. You think you’re telling us about goals, but what you’re really telling us is that weight matters, that there’s an implicit understanding that we should all be working to carry less of it. That sucks.
There are so many better examples of things we should be striving toward, of goals that will enrich our lives and bring us joy.
Why don’t you make those your go-tos?