Blake Snow

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Weight is a lousy motivator for long-term health. Find a real cause today.

blake-first-marathonIf you’re happy with your health, nutrition and self-image, skip to the next post. If not, read on.

In nine years of marriage, Lindsey and I have never owned a weight scale. Not one.

Why? Because they’re superficial, largely meaningless, and a lousy motivator of long-term health.

They also fail to encourage sustainable weight loss, which in itself can be both heathy and unhealthy depending on how you achieve it.

I didn’t always think that way. When I left for college, I wanted a scale to maximize interest from the opposite sex. But I was too cheap to buy one. So I quickly learned that my clothes were a more practical indicator of weight anyways. To this day, I value my clothes’ opinion over a scale’s.

The only time I actually step on a scale is at the doctor’s office. Even then, I don’t bother to ask. I just put my shoes back on, whether the nurse announces my weight or not.

It’s gotten so bad — or good, depending on how you look at it — that I resorted to lying on my licence renewal. When asked my weight, I answered 200 pounds, believing it to be a fair average of my lowest adult weight on record (183, in college) and my highest (220, as an idle newlywed engorged on Lindsey’s home cooking). I still don’t know my weight.

The way I see it, daily weight monitoring is an ineffective motivator. You need something more.

In my case, it was my dependents. By that I mean the realization that as the father of a growing family, I needed supplemental life insurance to ensure that my wife and offspring would be well looked after as long as possible. But instead of increasing the size and benefits of my policy, I focused on my heart. Not my pecks, abs, or arms. My heart.

Since heart failure is the number one killer in America, and the number one reason for cutting life short, I decided that I would need to embrace cardiovascular exercise once and for all. For its affordability and ease of access, I chose running jogging. (But any cardiovascular exercise will do, including swimming, biking, or distance walking.)

Once I made that decision, I was no longer running for superficial reasons. I was running for unselfish ones. Whereas before I unsuccessfully exercised for myself, now I exercise regularly for those who depend on me. That keeps me going, as do increased glances from my wife.

Of course, a good playlist, deep thought, and beautiful scenery help reduce the monotony of endurance. But exercise is no longer something I do. It’s a part of who am I. It’s a habit. I look forward to it almost as much as eating a good meal. And it wouldn’t have been that way if I hadn’t picked a long-term cause and internalized the popular grade school theme of “running for heart.”

Better yet, my regimen has spread to other areas of my life, including diet, calisthenics, and light weight training. Fitness, you see, is infectious. Once your body gets a taste of health, it wants more of it.

I’m often asked the following: “Are you still running?” I think the question — although perfectly valid — is primarily rooted in the idea that diet, exercise and fitness are largely superficial fads in this country. Trends or get-fit quick schemes. That’s a shame.

Health and fitness can and should be so much more. You just need to find a long-term motive and something that meshes well with your interests and lifestyle. Often times that’s engaging in something you hate the least. Or changing routines once you become utterly board with your current activity.

In any case, I’m convinced with regularity and proper cause, the effort required for fitness and health can transform into something you truly enjoy, look forward to, and derive value from.

So… if you want to lose weight, keep it off, and live longer, do the following:

  1. Find a better reason for health. In my case, it’s my family and the desire to become a centenarian. For my single friend Wesley, it’s testing the limits of what the human body can do. Over the last 15 years, he’s gone from gym rat and Muay Thai kick boxer to avid runner and sprinter, logging even faster 100M dashes than he could as an 18 year old.
  2. Throw away your scale. Don’t let a meaningless number dictate your self image for a day. In throwing away your scale, you can ensure that you don’t fad or binge diet. For people needing to reach a target weight for health reasons, a scale is obviously helpful. But once you’ve reached a target goal, try using a pair of target jeans instead. Then, watch your weight regularly with clothes and a mirror. You’ll know when you need to regulate.
  3. Make health a priority, like this guy. Throwing yourself into work, passions, and interests is great, but never let those shortchange your health, which can limit how long you’ll be able to enjoy your passions.
  4. Avoid processed and meat-heavy food in favor of home cooked, vegetables, whole grain, nuts, and fruit based dishes with spared helpings of meat and moderate portions of pasta, rice, and breads. Also avoid large portions, second, and third helpings. To achieve this, quit stocking your pantry with instant (aka junk) food. Stock it instead with raw, bulk food that must be prepared. Place your veggies where you can see them in the fridge. And keep one or two fruit bowls on the kitchen and dining room tables so they stay top of mind. And stay away from short-term gimmicks. They rarely if ever take hold.
  5. Don’t over do it, like this guy. Listen to your body, start slow, and don’t ramp up too quickly. Life truly is a marathon, not a sprint.

Readers: What’s your biggest motivator for health?