I have a love-hate relationship with weight-measuring scales. They're indeed valuable as a quantitative tool, and clinically a useful measure for tracking body composition. But for many, hoping on the scales can become such an anxiety-fueled, stress hormone-inducing experience, where it's believed the number between our toes somehow corresponds to our self-worth. It really, really doesn't. We are so much more than a number.
Whilst tracking weight loss, scale use can be a completely positive and motivating experience for some, where the overall trend moves south and any unsuspected fluctuations aren't a huge deal. But for others, if use is a little too frequent or readings aren't reflective of our goal, despite possibly doing everything right, they really can begin to mess with our psyche. Of course, if we hop on the scales and see we've gone up 1kg over the course of the day, especially after what we thought was a GREAT day of eating and exercise, our motivation may plummet, and we're likely to be left feeling totally confused - we may stammer as to how the heck that's even possible, when we've been eating so well?! Then despite our best efforts, we start to beat ourselves up, devalue how far we've come, give up, binge eat, feel guilty, and call ourselves names. It's so easy to get caught up in the numbers game while on a weight-loss mission.
The human body is hugely complicated, and between endless bodily functions, things entering in and out, digestion, evacuation and a huge variety of other factors, it's completely normal for our weight to naturally fluctuate a little across the day. But if we're tracking this measurement too frequently, we can mistake these everyday normal fluctuations for changes in fat mass - when in reality we're being awesome and keeping hydrated. Or it's chilly and we're wearing an extra layer of clothes. Or we're menstruating. Or we just ate a big nourishing dinner. Or we need to go to the bathroom. Or it's a different time of day then we usually weigh ourselves. Or we've been eating something delicious and salty, and are now retaining a little water (thanks sodium!).......you get the picture. But if we hop on the scales and see an increase in weight, our minds don't revert to the above. Instead we think back to food and what we've eaten today, and without us even realising it this can start to seed negative associations around food and weight.
This is why it's important we get totally honest with ourselves if we feel we're someone who is negatively affected by the scales, and actively work towards using them less and instead focusing on other measures of progress. Fortunately, there are many - and if you're following any kind of new diet and lifestyle plan where you're eating higher quality foods, chances are you can start to see or feel other health benefits almost immediately, whereas if we're focusing only on weight these can easily slip past unnoticed. Here are some tips to start shifting the perspective:
1. Move from being weight-focused to health-focused
Scales don't tell the whole picture. They can't tell us if we're building muscle (keeping in mind muscle weighs more than fat), our energy levels are skyrocketing, or if we're sleeping better. They can't tell if our blood work is improving or we're feeling more confident because we're choosing to look after ourselves. They can't tell if we're a good person or who we truly are. Hence, that number being undeserving to hold any part of our self-esteem.
Now I get realistically, when we're on a weight-loss mission it's satisfying to see a shift in that number. But by changing the perspective from weight-focused to health-focused, we turn what may be a short-lived sprint to reach our "goal weight" into a lifestyle, and hopefully with that lift some pressure on ourselves. A lifestyle indicates a long-term journey, whereas being number-focused can certainly get us from A to B, but might not get us all the way to the end of the alphabet aka the bigger picture of health.
2. Set goals and monitor progress outside of weight
While monitoring progress is important for motivation, it's important to have goals that aren't just scale-orientated. When you start eating nutrient-dense foods you'll start to feel the health benefits almost immediately, although if we're only weight-focused and not seeing much of a change on the scales, we may think we're "failing" and give up, when in reality positive changes are indeed happening.
You could try:
- Taking regularly weekly progress shots in the mirror. Strip down to a sports bra and shorts (or less) and take a front, back and side shot once a week. Week-to-week changes can be small and we might not notice them, although cumulatively they add up over time. Taking weekly progress shots are an excellent visual diary to track your progress and see how far you've come - this is especially great for monitoring changes in muscle mass!
- Monitor changes in your physical strength and endurance. Building fitness is an achievement that takes time. Running for longer without stopping or doing more press-ups then before are all indications you're making fab progress with your health.
- How are your clothes fitting? Are they getting less snug? Maybe you're even needing to go down a size? Or maybe you find the scales are going up, but your clothing size is going down (Miss muscles!). Enjoy this excuse to go shopping for some new clothes!
- How do you feel? Are you leaping out of bed with energy, whereas before you'd hit snooze five times? Are you sailing through your usual 3pm slump without reaching for a chocolate bar? A side effect of eating healthier and exercising more regularly is more energy throughout the day - and for me this is really what it's all about, feeling good.
- Are you sleeping better? Exercise, less junk food and caffeine, and a more balanced lifestyle will all contribute to a body that is able to settle down quicker before bed. Getting enough sleep is like seeing the world in rose-tinted glasses - everything is brighter and better.
3. Set limits around scale use
If I'm using the scales with clients I get them to weight themselves only once a week or once every two weeks. For most, this is enough time to grasp the overall trend of weight loss/gain/management, whereas any more and we can start to hit that realm of those niggly too-frequent fluctuations, and with that often unnecessary stress. I find when they stick to this limit with time they become less obsessive over numbers, less weight-focused, and more health-focused. To keep motivated we always explore other areas of progress - all of the points above - and celebrate those successes.