An important part of your preparation before you start on the SWLL is to assess your current situation. By doing this you will:
- Record a baseline that you can use to measure future progress.
- Identify problems that may need correcting before you start on the SWLL.
- Get an objective idea of the challenge you face.
Before you start on the SWLL make an appointment with your doctor for a complete checkup. There are several reasons why this is essential.
Ask her if there is any reason why you cannot start an exercise program. If there is, then your first priority will be to address the problem. It is also possible that she will allow you to start an exercise program, but with restrictions on what you can do.
If you are a smoker, your doctor will urge you to give it up. If you are ready to do this, it is probably best to focus on quitting and to postpone the adoption of the SWLL. Some highly motivated people may be able to do both at the same time. Most people will have better success if they grapple with the challenges one at a time.
As part of your physical, your doctor will order a blood test. When the results come back she will tell you if there are any problems, and what to do about them. This is good, but it’s not enough. Ask her for a copy of the test results. Take the results home and store them in a safe place.
The results of the blood test act as a baseline. In years to come, you will get more blood tests and you can compare them to earlier results. They may show that some numbers are improving, which is reassuring and confirmation that your current lifestyle is good. Or they may show that some measures are deteriorating, in which case you can take corrective action.
Having a copy of the results allows you to study them and get a better understanding of what they mean. Certain numbers may be marked as being out of range. This means the result is abnormal and may signal a problem. For example, if a man finds that his Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) number is high, then he may have a problem with his prostate. When he researches PSA, he will find that it might point to prostate cancer, but that the test is notoriously unreliable.
Some numbers are especially worthy of attention because you have it in your power to do something about them.
If your cholesterol is too high then adoption of a healthy lifestyle will likely improve it. For a minority of people this is not true. A person may have a liver that simply produces too much cholesterol. It is still beneficial for such a person to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but for them, drugs are the main tool to control cholesterol.
Before you see the doctor, a nurse will weigh you and take your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is elevated, you may be able to reduce it through a lifestyle change.
Roughly one third of all people are salt sensitive. If they ingest too much salt, they retain fluid and their blood pressure goes up. For them, a salt restricted diet can improve their blood pressure, sometimes dramatically. For more information on this, check out http://www.dashdiet.org, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension website.
For more information about these tests, see the metabolic syndrome sections of the “Health” chapter.
Finally, your doctor may prescribe drugs based on the results of the exam. Question her and ask if there are any non-drug solutions to the problem. A good example is a finding of high cholesterol. Many doctors routinely prescribe drugs and don’t mention that lifestyle change may be a better solution. Show her the paper cited in Appendix 4, focusing on the results of the Portfolio Diet. She may be willing to let you try it.
It is almost universally true that people who have problems with their weight do not have an objective comprehension of how many calories they ingest. If you hear a healthy woman saying, “I simply can’t lose weight. I’m already eating like a sparrow and I still gain,” you can be sure that she doesn’t know what her calorie intake is.
This is also true of people who are successful weight losers. Doctors Hill and Wing of the National Weight Control Registry report that:
Registry participants almost certainly under-reported their total energy intake, although this phenomenon is not uncommon among other populations of questionnaire respondents. Registry participants reported consuming 1300 to 1500 calories per day, of which 23% to 24% came from fat.
The value of an accurate count of your calorie intake cannot be overstated. All the other components of the SWLL revolve around it. You need to ingest enough calories to dispel hunger, but no more. Ingest too many calories and you won’t lose weight. Eat too few and you will be hungry most of the time and won’t stay with the program.
You can start measuring the calories that you currently ingest before you adopt the full SWLL. Buy a good diet scale and use it to quantify the calories in all the food you eat. Adopt a methodology to track how many calories you ingest each day. See the “SWLL Diet” chapter for a discussion of this.
Once you have accurate data for, say, a week, you can compute a daily average calorie intake. Compare that number to your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). The method to compute TDEE is in the “Why Are You Overweight?” section of this chapter
It is useful to have some idea of your current activity level. You can use it as a baseline once you start on the SWLL.
The easiest way to record activity is to wear a pedometer or fitness tracker. All such devices record the number of steps you take each day, and some will record additional information, such as how many flights of stairs you climb.
Record the number of steps that you take each day.
Numerous health authorities urge us to take 10,000 steps each day, or the equivalent in some other form of activity. By wearing a pedometer and tracking your steps, you can compare yourself to this standard.