June 25, 2017

Designing Weight Loss: Limiting Factors

Designing Weight Loss: Limiting Factors

In every problems there are limiting factors to achieving success. Weight loss is no different. Designing a successful weight loss plan requires an understanding of the limiting factors which shape (and limit) what we can do. I typically classify these factors under the following intentionally broad categories:

  1. Feasibility – What is possible. We need to understand what we can and can’t do. Some things are beyond our control and understanding what is and what isn’t possible (and even what will be but isn’t now) is vital to building a plan that will be successful. To accomplish our goal we must adapt our design to the limits we face. We can’t do anything about our age and we may not be able to do anything about a medical condition that limits our activity. Our schedule might be difficult but we can probably make space in it for increased activity if we study it.
  2. Resources – What do/don’t we have at our disposal to help us. Do we live in a food desert? Do we have access to local organic farms? Do we live in a place where the weather and other factors (crime, pollution, pedestrian friendliness) are conducive to outdoor exercise? Do we have a supportive family and peers?
  3. Understanding – We need a level of knowledge and understanding of any problem before we can solve it. We’re limited by what we don’t know about weight loss/maintenance. Even if we know a great deal about the mechanics of weight loss if we’re not putting that knowledge into action there are probably things that we still need to learn about nutrition or exercise. Do we know what exercise or dietary changes we need or will be the most effective? If not where do we find that information? The best resources come from professionals who can advise us individually but if those resources are not available or feasible we need to look to the next best sources and we need to know how to pick out who those are.
  4. Desire – How much do you want to change? How much is the extra weight you’re carrying bothering you? Is your doctor demanding you make changes or face a shortened lifespan? Is summer approaching and you’re going to wear a bathing suit that makes you feel bad but not bad enough to have another slice of pizza? If you are afraid to go to the doctor because you believe they’ll berate you, if you’re depressed whenever you look in the mirror or at the scale (even without getting on it), if you’ve tried to lose weight but don’t know what to do then your desirability of weight loss factor is probably higher and you therefore have a higher chance at success.

Knowing our limiting factors is one part of what we need to know before we start to build a successful program. It’s part of our analysis but it’s not the entire analysis. It’s also something that, if we truly want to be successful we’ll have to keep coming back to and reassessing. Design is cyclical and analysis is not only the first step but it’s where we return to every time we get results so that we can adjust. Below are my Limiting Factors and in my next post I’ll go over the real of the analysis that I did on myself.

My Limiting Factors

I really want people to understand how to design their own weight loss plan. The following are the limiting factors I took into consideration when I did my analysis. It’s important to understand that I didn’t see weight loss as a design program when I started so my analysis began several months into my weight loss journey but it’s best to do this before you begin.


I was already somewhat active, not enough, but I could exert myself to some degree. My diet on the other hand was out of control and I loved bread, other grain based foods, and carbs in general. The activity that I was doing and which I love to do is soccer. Here are the factors that limited me before the start of my weight loss:

  1. Shin splints – I suffered intense pain if I ran a moderate amount. I was using compression braces but my shins ached sometimes for days after I played soccer and this made running for any length of time or with any intensity very difficult.
  2. Body shape – I had a lot of belly and mid-body fat and fat around my thighs. This made running and even kicking a soccer ball really difficult as the fat would get in the way.
  3. Bread Making – I recently began to bake bread and was really getting good at it. It was an activity that I loved equally for the joy of getting it right and for the joy of eating it after. I had a very grain heavy diet that was hard to modify.
  4. Schedule – Before I began my weight loss journey I owned my own business and was the president of the board of directors at a local community development organization in a rapidly changing neighborhood. We were going through a massive transition and due to the staff resigning I’d not only been trying to grapple with better representing and informing the existing businesses but welcoming the new businesses, helping members cope with the development pressures, build confidence amongst our peers and partners, raise revenues, and do all other aspects of the day-to-day work as a volunteer while conducting the higher board level business which left me with little time to exercise and think about what I was eating. That all was coming to an end as I was transitioning a new president and we hired an amazing and talented new Executive Director to staff the organization so my schedule would soon (after nearly 2 years of that) get back to normal.
  5. Mental Health – Part of what lead to my weight gain was stress and depression from an abusive relationship. I had this happen one other time, in college, when a boss (at a retail store where I was an assistant manager) was incredibly mentally abusive and made me feel worthless. She scheduled me in such a way that my eating, while at work, had to be done incredibly quickly because I was often the only employee at the store for the entire day (9 am to 10pm). I would binge when there were no shoppers, inhaling my food. I know that I need to avoid stress eating and depression from abusive people be they clients, peers, or even people under me. It was an employee who last destroyed my mental well-being through bullying and then crying that she was the victim of bullying in an attempt to oust myself and our executive team to maintain and cover up the terrible job her and her employees were doing.
  6. Access – My soccer team were all over 30 and most lived far away and had busy schedules so none of them would travel to practice with me. I did find a great field near my house to practice in and eventually met others and began to play on another team. I still don’t have many teammates who make the time that I do to practice but I quickly was able to overcome the initial limit when I found this field less than 10 minutes from my house.


Some limiting factors bleed into each other like number 6 above. I didn’t have a resource (a field to practice on) until I found one 10 minutes away. Due to my schedule changing and my family income level, etc. I have few resources limiting me. I have access to medical and lifestyle professionals, I can purchase equipment, etc. We even bought a nice treadmill about 4 months in so that I could continue to run in the winter. My resources are not unlimited but they’re not a major factor in my weight loss. It’s not a problem if you don’t have any or many limits in one or more category, in fact it’s a good thing because it means you can concentrate your efforts on resolving or adapting to the few you do have.


It’s really hard to analyze what you don’t know but knowing what you need to know is vital to resolving any issue. I knew that I didn’t know what activities would help me to lose weight efficiently nor did I know how to change my diet. I sought advice from several experts. First and foremost I saw my primary care physician. As I had not been to a doctor in quite a while he ran a full panel and at my follow-up explained some of the biggest issues I was facing (medically). These including being .1 percentage points away from being a type 2 diabetic, having moderately high cholesterol, being chronically dehydrated (which resulted in bilateral kidney stones), and having mild hypothyroidism. The thyroid helps regulate metabolism, mood, and sleep. Getting it under control wouldn’t cure my obesity but not doing so would make it incredibly hard to accomplish.

My doctor gave me great advice, though it was nonspecific (you’ve got to lose a lot of weight, you need to cut your carbs by about 90%, you need to drink a lot more water) but he’s a generalist so we’ll forgive him. He was/is willing to write consults with specialists if I need them but he also told me to take advantage of the abundance of available information of reputable websites. The hospital system he works for has lots of resources on weight loss so he suggested I start there rather than going straight to seeing a nutritionist who would just tell me to eat fewer carbs (though I’m sure they’d tell me a lot more than that).

My wife is a pharmacist so she was taught in school about how to find and distinguish reputable information but not everyone learns these things which is why some people still think vaccines cause Autism (which they don’t). I won’t go into how to tell good from bad but professionally written peer reviewed information is the gold standard. Still you can find a lot of accurate and correct information on youtube or elsewhere if you understand how to distinguish good from bad. If you can’t tell the difference it’s best to try to meet with professionals and trust their word rather than going it alone and either injuring yourself or just wasting your time.


I had a lot of desire. I weighed 310lbs. This was equal to the heaviest I’d ever been which came after that abusive retail job, switching to another job I hated, dropping out of college, getting married, having a rough start to that, and getting fired from a terrible job. I didn’t want to think about how bad things were when I was that fat before because they were really bad. I also knew that I was going to be 40 in the next few years. I understand that life expectancy numbers factor in death at infancy and so on so the 76 years of age that a man in the US is expected to live to is really probably somewhere over 80 given that I’ve survived infancy but that still means I’m coming close to the halfway point and if I want to extend that as long as I can I needed to get serious about getting healthy. My wife and I don’t have any children yet but we plan to have one in the next year or two (if all goes well) and being around for my, as of now, non-existent kids is important as well so my desirability is actually very high.

What if it wasn’t though? How would I overcome a low level of desire, or at least a moderate one. I know a lot of people that “wish” they could lose some weight. Those folks, in my view, have a moderate level of desire. If it were low they probably wouldn’t even wish for it, they’d just accept where they are (reluctantly or not) and not bother to think about it. To be clear there is nothing wrong with this. Also there might be something wrong if your desire to lose weight is high but your need to do so is low.

If you “wish” to lose weight you’re not going to. You’ve got to want to do it enough that you’re willing to make changes and stick with a program. I wish I would have lost the weight I’ve lost recently a lot sooner but I didn’t. I wish I would have stuck with playing soccer but I didn’t. I wish I was independently wealthy but I’m probably not going to get there unless I desire it so much that I create a plan that I’m willing to stick to.

I’ll post more how I did my analysis in my next post. If you like this let me know. I’m on social media in a number of places and you can always email me to tell me your thoughts as well.

June 25, 2017 | W.D.Orkoskey
Post Categories
Applied Strategic Design Thinking
File Under