Saturday, June 20, 2009

A New Breakthrough, The Psychology of Numbers, and China Miéville

Lake Mileage: 5+k (power walk)
MP3 Player: Cleo Laine Sings Sondheim
Currently Reading: Perdido Street Station (China Miéville)

It's an interesting phenomenon, I think, how certain numbers on the bathroom scale matter so much more than other ones. After all, a pound lost is a pound lost and a pound gained is a pound gained, right? Is it any worse going from 152 to 155 than it is going from 158 to 161? Obviously, it's no different in terms of weight gained, but for most people, it would feel lots more discouraging to move from the 150's into the 160's - arbitrary though those numbers are. In the same way, moving down a "decade" when you're losing weight feels like much more of an accomplishment, even if the incremental weight loss that accomplished it is no different than the same loss in the middle of a decade.

And even if you know that, it's hard to fight off the temptation: I was certainly excited today to get on the scale and see 249.5 lbs.! Maybe I just barely squeaked past the line, but it was still very gratifying to see myself weighing less than 250 - I feel like I'm at least in the lower half of the 200-300 lbs. range rather than in the upper half. 250 might be a purely arbitrary number; everything would be totally different, for instance, if I weighed myself in kilograms or stone or whatever. But the numbers we've internalized do have a certain power over the way we perceive weight loss or gain.

Nevertheless, this 249.5 is real progress. I now weigh less than I have anytime this year or anytime in 2008; the last time I weighed under 250 was fall 2007. I've lost 31 lbs. since the start of the diet, more than 20 lbs. of it on Atkins, and I'm nearly 35 lbs. lighter than my worst weight for 2009. This also means I've lost more than 10% of my initial body weight, so my cardiovascular system as well as the rest of my organs and my knees have to be happy about that. And if you look at the graph to the right, "The Plan and the Reality", you can see that for the first time since I started the diet, with a goal of losing 100 lbs. by next summer, I'm actually ahead of where I need to be to stay on track - another good bit of motivation.

On the book front: a big shout-out to author China Miéville for his thoroughly amazing novel Perdido Street Station. The power of imagination at work in this book is extremely impressive - it's this wonderfully mind-expanding (or mind-warping!), incredibly detailed portrait of a striking fictional reality, with a setting, characters, and situations I couldn't have imagined if I sat at a desk for twenty years. I'm just awed by how good he is.

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