Dr. Tim Reid once asked me why I was so driven by numbers. I had just spoken at a meeting of diabetes professionals about my success in bringing my weight down from 312 pounds and a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 39.5 in February 2006 to 156 pounds and a BMI of 19.8 in May 2008.
Dr. Reid treats patients at the Mercy Diabetes Center in Janesville, Wisconsin. He also serves as the chairman of the Department of Family Practice for Mercy Health System.
At the meeting, I also had told him and the other members of the group how much I brought down my A1C level from 14.4 when a doctor first told me in February 1994 that I had type 2 diabetes. Now it is 5.1.
But I fumbled at answering Dr. Reid’s question. Admitting that I am not an engineer with the engineering mentality that delights in numbers, I didn’t have an answer for why these numbers were so important to me.
I do now.
When we don’t have specific goals, we aren’t able to control our diabetes and our weight without them controlling us. The key is to be as specific as we can.
To have a good chance at being successful in reaching our goals we have to go beyond acknowledging them to ourselves. We have to publicize them.
That means we have to start by stating them in concrete terms. When our goals are weight loss, we need to express them in terms of the BMI we are aiming to reach.
The BMI is a simple tool that relates our weight to our height. It applies equally to men and to women. It’s not perfect, since it doesn’t work for children, weightlifters and other heavily muscled types (because muscle weighs more than fat) and pregnant women. I especially like the U.S. government’s standard and easy-to-use calculator because it recognizes fractions of an inch in height and tenths of pounds in weight. You can easily find it online at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm..
If we would instead express our goals as pounds lost, we would give up something important. It would be easier to lose track of our goal. For example, I know one man who is famous for losing 180 pounds. That’s great, but he started from a weight of 410 pounds, and when I met him, his BMI was obviously above a normal level.
We need to set our weight-loss goal at a normal weight, which is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. In acknowledging it, we need to go beyond making a mental note of it. We need to write it down. Better yet would be to track it on a daily basis, which I do in a file on my computer.
Just as important, we need to publicize it. We need to tell our families and friends both what our goal is and what our BMI currently is. We need to talk to them and write them too. We are essentially making a promise to our friends, and friends don’t break promises.
Of course, we can change our goals. I originally set my BMI goal at 24.9, barely in the normal range, but it was based on the weight recorded on my discharge papers from the U.S. Army half a century earlier. After reaching that goal, I decided that I would be healthier and feel better if my BMI was 19.5. When I reached my revised goal, I made sure to tell people about it -- not to brag, but instead to keep the pressure on me not to exceed that weight.