Halves, Wholes, And Rounding

Recently I have been trying to lose a few pounds and get down to an aspirational target weight. As an inevitable part of that process, I have left the happy land of whole numbers and entered the territory of halves, wholes, and rounding.

Whole numbers are great and, for the vast majority of purposes, are perfectly adequate and indeed preferable. The whole concept of “rounding” basically was developed solely to avoid those confusing and inconvenient fractions when calculating paychecks or the cost of a single gallon of milk. But there are times when more precision clearly is needed, if only for purposes of positive self-image, and the fractional numbers thus must enter the equation. The two obvious instances are when you are focused on weight and age. (Quarters and halves also come in handy when you are telling the time, of course.)

Every child starts out with their parents measuring their age in weeks, then in months, then in half years. And virtually as soon as the kid develops sufficient speech skills, accounting for those half years become very important. The child realizes that age is associated with positive attributes–like being able to stay up later–and insists that the half year be noted when their age is given. They are four-and-a-half, not just four. Later, when adulthood is achieved and moving up in age isn’t viewed quite so positively, those half-years are discarded and we are perfectly content to stick with our age at the last birthday until the next birthday rolls around.

When losing weight is at issue, the mental calculation is is the opposite. The downward movement of a quarter pound or a half pound on the scale is a crucially important milestone to be celebrated as an incentive to continue whatever you’ve been doing to shed the weight. Trim supermodels and Hollywood stars presumably don’t do this. But when losing weight is your goal and personal resolve is a key part of the process, you think of your weight in precise half and quarter pounds, with no upward rounding permitted.

Downward rounding, on the other hand, is perfectly appropriate.