Can We Please Stop Setting Weight Loss Goals?

Several months ago, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill announced to her Twitter followers that she wanted to lose 50 pounds. Yesterday, she took to the 'net again, informing her followers that she'd met her goal. While I'm happy for her for doing what she set out to do, it's depressing that the standard by which women measure our fitness is still the number on a scale. It's dismaying that we still feel like we need to announce shamefully to the world when we believe that we have become too large, and then return to proudly tell world when we become tinier, and that we reflexively feel compelled to tell other women when we've noticed that they have shrunk. Stop it, ladies. Stop it right this second.

Getting physically stronger is admirable, and taking care of your body is important. But weight alone is not an indicator of health, and women put way too much emphasis on it under the guise of "getting fit." Weight is an indicator of how you feel to the ground when you walk on it and it may reflect your health, but it shouldn't be your primary concern unless you're a baby, pregnant, recovering from major surgery, or told by a doctor that it needs to be. In many cases, losing weight is a sign of lack of health; some people lose weight when they're depressed or having serious issues. A friend of mine once told me that she'd never gotten as many compliments on her physique as when stomach problems made it impossible for her to keep most food down for months. She was miserable, but coworkers couldn't help but notice how fabulous and skinny she looked! That's completely messed up.

I understand the appeal of quantifying fitness goals with numbers. Without a way to track one's progress, it's hard to know if a "get healthy" plan is working. But there are so much better ways to prove to yourself (or show others) that you're becoming healthier than to watch the numbers on a scale drop. How about your mile time? How about how many blocks you can walk without running out of breath? How about the amount of time it takes you to bike home from work? Why not tell everyone you're going to compete in a triathlon and then send everyone a picture of how happy you look at the finish line? You could also set goals to improve actual health metrics, like your blood pressure or cholesterol, although people might not find your battle to lower your salt intake as compelling as a woman's public desire to lose weight; it's hard to imagine that a show called The Biggest Loser: BLOOD PRESSURE EDITION would do well in the ratings.

Your weight does not matter. Your health matters. Your ability to physically complete the tasks you ask of your body matters. How far do you want to run? How much do you want to lift? How do you feel?

Claire McCaskill is a strong, smart woman, and her ability to set a goal and achieve it is respectable. But she shouldn't have felt compelled to set that goal in the first place. Public scrutiny should not be a motivating factor to lose weight, because that public scrutiny of women's weight and the pressure women feel to become ever smaller comes from an ugly, repressive place. And it's time to move on.

Mo. Senator Lost 50 Lbs With Twitter's Help [CBS]