Thursday, June 23, 2011

How much I weigh and other scary secrets...

The other day, I got a follow-up email request from a reporter writing an article about Weight Watchers.  He casually requested if I could provide him with my height, weight and BMI.  Apparently, he had read on my blog that I had gained six pounds about a month ago, and this got him curious about how much I actually weighed.  How did I react to his email?  Frankly, it kind of freaked me out.

Perhaps a little more context is in order.  The reporter is a guy who is working on a long lead piece, and I had already spent a bunch of time with him.  He's a very nice, interesting and curious guy, and I certainly didn't think he intended to do me any horrific harm when I got his request.  I think he was understandably perplexed when I told him that I didn't want to send the information via email, but preferred to share it via the phone.  As he said, it wasn't as though he was asking for my social security number.

Upon reflection, I was, in fact, being a little bit weird.  The fact of the matter is that although I'm at my goal weight, I'm still self-conscious about writing my weight down.  This got me to wondering why I am so uncomfortable with this?  Prevailing wisdom suggests that men are very comfortable talking about how many pounds they weigh.  Or are they?...

So for those curious about how much I weigh, here it goes (deep breath...):
  • I'm 6'3"
  • When I got weighed last week, I was 204 lbs, one pound over my goal weight of 203 lbs (this is with clothing -- in fact, I was wearing chain mail armor)
  • This puts me at a BMI of 25.5
[BTW, I made reference to a six pound gain in a blog post about a month ago.  I am happy to report that five of those pounds have been vanquished.  Yeah me!  It's also worth noting that at my heaviest, I was 244 pounds.  Double-yeah me!]
Though I'm down 5 lbs, I would guess that I still weigh more than the witch and the duck.  That doesn't make me a warlock, so put your pitchforks away.

One reason I'm self-conscious about my weight is that I am 0.5 above the clinical definition of the lower end of the overweight BMI range of 25 to 29.9 (obese is 30+ -- I was in that range at one point).  For me to be at a BMI of 24.9, I need to get down to about 199.  So how is it that my officially sanctioned Weight Watchers goal weight ended up four pounds above this?

When it came time to setting my goal weight, I first had a conversation with my leader, Liz, and I expressed that 199 felt way too skinny for me to sustainably maintain.  In fact, I've been at 199, and that's the weight where people start telling me that I look a little gaunt -- I finally learned to stop taking that as a compliment.  Liz suggested that I talk to a qualified healthcare professional to determine a truly healthy weight for me.  So I made an appointment with the Chief Scientific Officer of Weight Watchers (What can I say?  It's a perk of the job.)  She checked a couple of extra facts about me when helping me find my goal weight, including:
  • My waist size, which is 34", well under the target of 38"
  • My body-fat percentage as measured by a commercial grade impedance device.  I came in at 16% body fat.  I tested it again last week and I was at 17%.  According to the American Council on Exercise, 14% to 17% qualifies as "fitness" and 18% to 25% qualifies as "acceptable".  I usually bounce around from 15% to 17%.  
Based on all of this, she felt comfortable that my goal of 203 was definitely at a healthy weight, so I was able to get a waiver on the BMI 25 so that I could qualify for Lifetime Membership.  

Not to sound like too much of a cliche-ridden man, but I do lift weights pretty frequently (4X per week), so I have built up some muscle mass (which is totally apparent when I squint into the mirror).  Further, I'm convinced that I come from farming stock -- I'm pretty large framed.  OK, maybe I am a cliche-ridden man.    

In truth, there is no perfect measure of healthy weight, and this subject is not without controversy.  Weight Watchers regularly scours the research, and despite any imperfections, BMI is still the most easily used and maintained measure that is highly predictive of health risk factors.  However, because BMI is not perfect, Weight Watchers allows its members to get written permission from their doctors to qualify for Lifetime Membership as long as their BMI is below 27.  I'm one of them.  

There.  I have now broadcasted my weight, and it's out there in the world.  Even writing this in my blog entry gives me a vague feeling of uneasiness.  Why?
  1. I have never had any problem talking about my weight loss (30 pounds), but I have never been as comfortable talking about my absolute weight.  Most people guess that I weigh less than I actually do (I think that's a good thing), a fact that makes me feel all the more self-conscious about the actual number.  I do understand that I am overly obsessing about a number, and too often ignoring observations such as my skinnier, post-weight loss clothing still fitting and that I am looking vaguely the way I should look.  More importantly, I am still living very much of a healthy lifestyle, so that is clearly the most important consideration.  Yet, I still worry about that little number.  What can I say?  I have an in-grained need to keep score on myself.  
  2. I feel accountable to the people I work with, particularly given my role in the organization, to be the walking, breathing example of Weight Watchers.  I am happy to be at my weight for myself, but I feel obligated to make sure I stay there for others.  I'm not sure this is an entirely bad thing.  Feeling a sense of accountability for our health for others can be a useful and effective motivator (at least for me).  It is certainly a good will gesture for my family, who would like to see me around for a long time.  I also believe that the success of each of us can help motivate others to do the same.  It has often been written that obesity is contagious:  if all of your friends are over-weight, you are statistically more likely to be overweight yourself.  I'd like to think that the opposite is also true.   
    This is one of those blog posts that I write knowing that it can be kind of a touchy subject for a lot of people.  It certain has been for me writing it.  Then again, maybe I'm over-thinking it all.  I do that.  

    Cheers,

    David

    35 comments:

    1. I totally understand not wanting to broadcast the actual number you weigh. I finally decided to put it on my blog, not knowing if it was brave or stupid!

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    2. Bravo, Dave! I hope that in doing so, in writing it down and sharing it with the world, you are freed from any shame associated with the number on the scale.

      I appreciate you writing this post. As I started reading, my knee-jerk reaction was as you said, guys don't care about discussing their weight. But, much like women, when there is stuff tangled up in the meaning of the number, I get the hesitation.

      I also found this quite informative because I wondered how I was going to get around the issue that my goal weight (170) is above the high end of the "healthy" weight range (164)for my height and age. However, I set my goal weight with the help of 2 of my doctors (my internist and my endocrinologist) so now I know that as I approach that weight I will need some supporting documentation.

      As a woman, even one who has no secrets, I don't like discussing my weight either, owing to the fact that no one would imagine that I currently weigh 195# (and no one thought I weight 232 at my highest). I guess I prefer their illusion of my weight, whatever it is, although being on WW makes it far easier to discuss. In fact, your post has liberated me a bit because maybe by talking more openly about my weight I can bust the myth that people weigh what we think they do (as if that matters anyway).

      In my profession, I deal with people's salaries (both what they are earning and what they want to earn) which is another taboo subject for most but to me it is just a number and not some reflection of the person's 'worth'.

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    3. Thank you for writing this blog entry. I've lost 84 pounds with WW and still have 48 more pounds to go to get to the top end of my WW ideal weight range. I knew that we could get a doctor's note to set a different goal weight, but there was no indication that it had to be below a BMI of 27.

      I wish WW took measures like waist circumference and body fat percentage into account as part of our WW journey, even if they only did it on an every three months schedule. I think that would help a lot of us who are obsessed with what the scale says because WW would provide another measure of our success. At Curves they have a simple device that I hold out at arm length and it gives me a body fat %. Even if it is inaccurate, at least it is something and I don't see why it wouldn't be difficult to implement that for those members that want it. A tape measure and a few minutes is more than enough to get a waist circumference and members would feel better knowing that their receptionists are going to be more consistent in the measurement than trying to do it ourselves.

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    4. Thanks for the post David. I'm the same way with my weight. People think that I weigh less than I do, so I am very hesitant to tell them the actual number.

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    5. I love your posts and share your trepidation about revealing your weight. But, you realize that you can't be a Weight Watchers leader... You can't use a doctor's note for your goal weight, it has to be within the healthy weight range chart. (Unless the hiring standards have changed since I last checked.) I too would really like to see some other way to measure BMI with our members. There are a lot of healthy, very active people who for whatever reason, don't land within our healthy weight ranges. I'm all for more technology instead of a generic paper chart. Then you and many of our members could feel even more justifiably proud of where you are in your healthy lifestyle :)

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    6. I was just about to bring up the same point as Lynn - would WW allow leaders to get a waiver if they're above the healthy BMI range, but at a healthy weight based on other factors such as waist-to-height ratio and body fat percentage??

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    7. Also - could us common folk get a waiver, too, without a doctor's note, if we showed the same?

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    8. I had my goal changed by my doctor too. I'm from Brazil and I'm a WW member. They've invited me to be a leader, but i don't have time, since I have my own job. I'd love to work as a WW leader for people who do the program alone, but I guess this kind of job doesn't exist here.
      You can see my pictures and my weight chart in my blog. I like the way you write about yourself here. It makes me feel comfortable with the things I do, but I shoudn't do (e.g., when i don't eat healthy stuff). You show yourself as a "real" person, not as "the CEO od WW", "perfect" and so on.
      Thanks for your comforting words.
      Solange
      http://escrevepraemagrecer.blogspot.com/

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    9. It's funny... I'll blog the live long day about my weight, what I think about my weight, what I plan to do about my weight, what getting to the weight I want means to me... but I still have trouble talking about the subject, even to people close to me.

      But good for you for putting the numbers out there. Sounds like you're in a good place..

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    10. Hi David,

      Wonderful post.

      As it happens, I have almost no anxiety around choosing and/or sharing a goal weight and the reason is simple: it's too far off to worry about. I'm sure I am one of the slowest losers in Weight Watchers history. It's taken me 26 months to lose 37 pounds. That's less than a pound and a half a month - around half a pound a week. So I worry about my goal weight as I worry about which assisted living community I'm going to live in 30 years from now. Someday I'll have to make that choice ( if I'm lucky ) but it's a long way off.

      For the record, I started at 252, am now at 215, and the Weight Watchers guidelines tell me that 184 is the most I can weigh and be at goal. That seems downright scrawny to me. So for now I've chosen 190, with the understanding that I have no real sense of what number will actually feel best to maintain. Like you I am large-framed, and have some evidence ( also when squinting ) of muscle mass to consider when figuring my ideal weight. I'm shorter than you, at a hair under 6 feet, but 184 still seems awfully…delicate. But there's no rush. For now, my final Goal Weight is not unlike the inevitable collapse of Social Security - still comfortably far off in the hazy future.

      David, this post has been especially helpful, as is almost always the case when you publicly confront your irrational thinking about your weight. For starters, it mitigates our own craziness around the scale. If the CEO of Weight Watchers is maintaining a healthy goal weight and still has these anxieties, then I guess my own wacky thinking isn't so unique - and more importantly isn't so damaging. But even more significantly, posts like this one actually change our story. We realize through your example that in our culture it is simply not possible to always think sanely about weight loss. If the CEO of WW is infected with the craziness, then we all are to some degree. So then, instead of secretly wondering why we're so nutty about our weight loss, the question becomes: how well am I coping with the inevitable insanity that accompanies this journey? That's a much healthier question, and it's the great gift of your blog.

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    11. Loved the blog! I wear my Weight Watchers name tag ... it tells the world that I lost 150 pounds. But, I really don't want to tell the world my weight. Funny how we are. Love that we're each human. Oh so great that we have a place called Weight Watchers to come and be with others who have the same kind of thinking. That we can share this journey with others who understand!

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    12. I got a note from my doctor who actually specializes in weight management for a goal weight higher than the healthy range and it is more than a 27 BMI. He said anything less than that was unrealistic given where I started at, 332 pounds. I'm currently down 120 pounds. Are you saying that I won't be able to get lifetime membership when I achieve the goal that my doctor set because it is above a 27 BMI? I had never heard that before.

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    13. There is in " WOMEN's HEALTH" magazine this month(today actually) a quick blurb on BAI which may replace BMI.. A study in "Obesity" found BAI which is calculated using height and hip circ to be significantly more precise than BMI. As you stated BMI doesnt take into account whether a large body size is due to muscle mass or obesity.(adapted from WOMEN's HEALTH mag July/Aug 2011) pg 29

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    14. Hi David,
      I just wanted to let you know that I find your posts so thoughtful and encouraging. It's great to see your struggles, and know that we all have funny ways that we think about, talk about, and act about weight loss! I'm always looking forward to your next post!
      -Laura

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    15. Hi David,

      First, thanks for your blog, I love reading and appreciate your honesty and commitment to the program.

      I also have a doctor's note that has set my Goal weight higher than WW's BMI 25 for many of the same reasons you mentioned.

      I would love to work for WW and have been asked to, but I've been told that you can't work for WW with a doctor's note goal and I must get to WW's range for my height.

      Would you clarify the WW policy on this? I mean, if you can work for WW on with a doctor's note goal, shouldn't everyone be allowed the same?

      Thank you again!
      Melissa
      http://alifetimeloser.blogspot.com/

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    16. Thank you for a very interesting blog; yes men are increasingly self conciois about their weight. As a former WW member who lost 214lbs (after turning 40) I was told by many that my lowest weight 169lbs (6'1") was too low, that I looked gaunt. Four years later I have transformed into a fitness nut and gym rat. I pump weights almost daily, cycle, run etc but am up 65lbs. According to BMI I am obese again, but the idea of returning to my gaunt state of baggy skin is scary. I do however obsess about my weight and am often told how I should now that I lift weights; however habits are hard to break.

      I really enjoyed your honesty; male body image is a growing issue (specially for us fit guy wannabes)

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    17. Hi Dave,

      I stumbled across your post from the WW twitter feed. I too was blogging about my weight loss, but had yet to reveal my starting weight. Or any weight in between them. The first post I wrote with actual numbers, I was a wreck, my husband had to basically talk me back into my decision to write the post in the first place.

      Once I posted actual numbers a couple times it got easier, with fewer cringes. Though it's still a little rough, especially when I gain in a week, instead of lose, I find it mortifying. My family and friends read this blog, but they are all supportive, so it all works out in the end.

      Keep up the good work!

      Jenny

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    18. I've lost 40 lbs so far with another 10 to go, and I'm currently 25 less than my pre-pregnancy weight from 2 years ago. Despite looking/feeling the best I have in years, I still weigh significantly more than my friends who are packing on the late-twenties lbs as we speak. I'm chalking it up to my height and muscle mass. This post made me feel MUCH better about the stupid number I obsess over and extremely proud of my single-digit-sized clothes.

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    19. I hate saying my weight. I know just speaking it doesn't make it any different, I guess it is just hearing it. I am at my goal weight and have been since before Christmas 2010, but those numbers still scare me!

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    20. I think you have just set the high bar for transparency among CEOs. Bravo!

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    21. David, I found this post very interesting because I also have had doubts about the validity of BMI for me - I am the same height as you and am currently BMI 25.5 - and people are starting to tell me to stop losing weight now!!!! I intend to lose another 5 pounds just to get slightly under BMI 25 and then I will definitely stop. It worries me though that the average WW member doesn't have the same amount of knowledge that you do about getting doctor's notes, the limitations of BMI etc.etc. - WW seems to put BMI forward as the gold standard for everyone but I know for sure that if I aimed for BMI 20 (or even 23) I would look gaunt and ill - but according to BMI (and therefore WW) I would be 'healthy'! Perhaps WW literature and website need to do more to address this? Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

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    22. i have to admit i had my suspicions about your blog post - because, quite honestly, i dont think men have quite the same preconditioned aversion to their personal weight and overall body image that women have.

      however, you stated your fears through an open veil. thank you for your honesty. and i truly appreciate that.

      i achieved lifetime status 2 weeks before my 40th birthday. 2 weeks after my birthday, i found out i was pregnant with baby #4. scared? heck yes.

      to my horror, several friends commented, "oh too bad. now you will have to lose all that weight all over again."

      well, i didnt. and now 15 years later, i am still w/i my weight range for height, though not as svelt as i was back then, i am close -and i am working on getting back to that goal.

      my bmi is 23. i have my body fat measure, but honestly, i cannot remember that number. i am 5'9... so with that, my goal weight is like that of a lot of ww women's starting weights.

      angst, much over my large number? heck yes. but i am working on it.

      but i am apparently in good company - few professional women athletes list their REAL weight on their stats (yes i was watching wimbledon).

      i wish we could over the 5'5 95 lbs feminine ideal.

      signed,
      5'9, 141 lbs or bust.

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    23. You know, this reminds of when my friend's daughter was born. He sent out an email just after by way of birth announcement (in the long time ago before Facebook) and said that his daughter had been born at such and such a time, and weighed x amount, and that this would positively be the last time her weight would be talked about in public.

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    24. Thank you for this post. I appreciate your honesty.

      I'm at a doctor's goal weight right now for my lifetime membership :) I have a BMI of 27. I've lost 68.8 lbs. with WW in the past 2 1/2 years. I would love to train to be a leader, and am disappointed that I must be in the BMI healthy weight range to do so, even though my doctor has set this goal for me considering my health issues.

      I am trying to get to the high end of the range, and have 12 lbs. to go, and have been trying since Nov. I will keep trying so that I can work for WW, although I really wish they would reconsider this requirement.

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    25. Thanks for sharing! I think it's tough to share actual weight numbers, because people's weight distributes so differently. We are afraid our friends will see our "number" and think, "Gross, I'd look like the Michelin Man if I weighed that." I think we also tend to think we're fooling everyone - like they'd be shocked if they knew we weighed (or ever weighed) this much. Maybe people who have never been heavy are fooled, but the rest of us? Not so much. :)

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    26. Great post Dave! Well written & I love to hear about an over analytical man as I do the same!

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    27. I think that your hesitation is triggered by the lower number people assign versus the actual number. It goes to show that our perception of health as a nation is off. I've lost about 55# and have 25 more to go to get to a healthy weight according to my doctor. It puts my BMI right at 25. The feedback I've gotten from coworkers, family, etc. is that I've "lost enough, are you sure that you should lose another 25? You look great." While I love to hear that, I know that the last 25# is important to be healthy for life. Perception is very strong.

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    28. Thank you for this post. I, too never told anyone how much I weighed. I was too ashamed. However, after seeing people on Biggest Loser "own" their weight, I came clean to my husband, family and friends. It was the most freeing thing I have ever done. When I started my weight loss journey I weighed 314.4 pounds. Today I am at 298.8. It has been a slow process and I have struggeled with a life changing injury one year ago. I feel blessed to be where I am today. Thank you Weight Watchers.

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    29. Last month, I was asked how much I weigh by reporters from the NY Times, CNN, Today Show, etc. And a couple of them even shared that number on the air! I'm really proud of the number because it is so. far. removed. from my prior weight, but it's still not the number I need/want it to be. And I've wondered (a lot) in the last month if I'll ever be completely satisfied talking about that number. We'll see...
      Regardless, it makes me feel a little less lame knowing that you (within a pound of goal) still find it a little unsettling to discuss.
      Kudos to you for doing it!

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    30. Our Pocket Guide and the Help information online provides we receive a Lifetime Membership recognition award when we achieve a weight goal that is within the Weight Watchers Healthy Weight Ranges (or a healthy weight determined by your physician) as long as this goal is at least 5 pounds less than our initial weight recorded at our first Weight Watchers meeting. So we can make lifetime with a doctor's note indicating that some weight other than the pre-determined weight range from the chart provided by weight watchers is an ideal healthy weight for us.

      However, per the information available for applying to be a leader, you upon hire, must be within 2 pounds of the Body Mass Index (BMI) healthy weight-goal range. And to be a receptionist, upon hire, must be within 10 pounds of the Body Mass Index (BMI) healthy weight-goal range. Does this mean that we can also have our body-fat percentage as measured by a commercial grade impedance device to determine that we are within the BMI healthy weight-goal range or alternate approved procedure to qualify for employment as a receptionist or leader?

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    31. As a WW leader myself, I was sooo glad to see this from you...made me feel good about my recent issues with the # on the scale...long story short....celebrating 5 yrs. as a lifetimer...got my THINDEPENDENCE, July 2006!! Still 10 lbs. under the top of the range for my height! Thanks for sharing and for your honesty!

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    32. What I love about this article and thank you David for publishing it, is that I feel more normal about my reluctance to share my numbers now. I am fitness instructor and have been for a few years after loosing 25kg. But I have to say that when my clients ask me how much I weigh it fills me with dread even though I am in the best shape that I have ever been in.

      maybe I need to get over my numbers and start acknowledging how strong I feel and how much better I look in photos and the mirror :)

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    33. Elizabeth ArcherdJuly 16, 2011 at 11:37 PM

      I've read a number of times that BMI is absolutely not a bonafide scientific measure of health precisely because it does not take into account several factors. It is just a mathematical model that should not be used and generally is not used in medical offices.

      I've seen photos of very normal looking children who are classified as "obese" by BMI calculations.

      Comments?

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    34. I think it is harder to talk about one's weight when one is tall! I am 6'3" also, very VERY tall for a woman, and even at my lowest weight, (which was actually quite a bit too thin for me; I was bony) I was still quite a heavy "weight". Height counts a lot!

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