We’re counting calories. We’re exercising. And we’re not losing weight. That’s how it seems, anyway. How to step away from the scale and focus on your wins instead of your weight.
“I weigh three pounds more than I did yesterday!”
I recognized the frustration in the woman’s voice as she stepped off the scale in the gym locker room. Bewildered, she looked at her friend.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t butt in. But I wanted to.
I wanted to reach out with a hug and say, “I get it! I’ve felt the same way! I’ve been so deflated after weeks of exercising but not losing weight, too. But let me tell you what I’ve learned!”
Instead, I locked my belongings up and walked out for my training session.
Ten minutes into my workout, I overheard another conversation. This time, a woman talking to her personal trainer.
“Even though I’m exercising, I’m not losing weight!”
Two comments overheard within ten minutes, from two different women with the same thought. The same frustration.
The same frustration, I suspect, that plagues so many of us. We’re counting calories. We’re exercising. And we’re still not losing weight.
Stop Obsessing Over the Number on the Scale
It’s a hard habit to break; obsessing over the scale. I’ve been obsessing about my weight for over 30 years. And to be honest, I still struggle.
I still get anxious about what the scale is going to tell me. Even when my clothes tell me I’m making progress. Even when my husband says he can see more muscle tone in my body and my face looks thinner.
If I’ve been diligently eating right and working out, I naturally expect to see big drops on the scale.
But the reality is that at 46, it just doesn’t work like that anymore.
Even more maddening? When I’ve been doing all the right things and the number on the scale goes up.
Most of us know it’s normal for our weight to go up and down a bit. Do you know how much your weight can fluctuate in a day?
Sometimes, weight can fluctuate up to five or six pounds, depending on what you’ve consumed, if you’ve exercised, or where you are in your cycle.
“Weight loss is not linear,” said my trainer in response to my frustration when my weight crept up a bit a few weeks ago.
I know this. Yet it drives me nuts and messes with my mind. I’m not sure there is anything more frustrating than when I’ve been working out but not losing weight.
I’ve heard this from various fitness experts for years. And I get it. Still, it frustrates me, because it’s hard to eliminate the messages you grew up with:
- Your weight somehow defines you.
- If are eating right, exercising and not losing weight, you must be doing something wrong.
- Your self-worth is somehow tied to that number on the scale.
It’s not true, of course. None of it is. But working to overcome that inner dialogue is an ongoing battle.
If you’re going through the same battle, I want you to know I get it. I know the struggle. You are not alone.
Obsessed with Weight Loss
I’ve spent years obsessed with losing weight. Clearly, I’m not alone.
It seems to me that as women, we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s all about the number we see when stepping on the scale.
I’ve dreaded the scale my entire life. Even when I’ve been in my best shape, a weight fluctuation in the wrong direction would send me into a spiral.
Even though my clothes fit and from an appearance standpoint, and I looked the same in the mirror even if I weight five pounds heavier, any increase in weight led to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
That’s crazy. And wrong.
Remember the two women from the gym I mentioned, who were frustrated about training but not losing weight?
I don’t know anything about their individual situations. I don’t know what their diets are like, or how often they are exercising.
I don’t know their metabolism or their age. I don’t know if they are “doing things right” or “doing it wrong.” So many things can factor into our weight loss results.
But I can speak to my experience and what I feel is an important but often overlooked aspect of health and fitness:
We are focusing way too much on this one metric:
We need to shift our thinking. We’ve got to stop putting so much emphasis on the scale.
Let’s stop obsessing about how much we weigh. Let’s stop focusing so much on what the scale says.
It’s only a number. And while it does tell us something about the state of our health, it’s not the whole picture.
My Two Pound Weight Loss
This past January, I committed to a four-week weight loss program at my gym. It entailed six workouts a week: three with a trainer and three on my own.
It also included a meal plan with a wide variety of healthy food. Nothing crazy or radical, and meal plans ranging from approximately 1200 to 1800 calories for each day.
I worked hard and I ate right. I wasn’t perfect, and most days, I kept my calorie intake to 1500.
At the end of the four weeks, the scale showed my total weight loss to be two pounds.
Think about it for a minute.
After four weeks of drinking half my body weight in water each day, eating clean, and killing it at the gym, I had a two-pound loss to show for it.
Are you kidding me?
Normally, seeing those results after so much discipline and hard work would be enough to send me spiraling in self-hatred and frustration, causing me to head straight to Taco Bell. (I know, gross.)
But like I said, the number on the scale is only one part of the story.
My gym uses an InBody Test to track progress. So because we took my assessment each week, I was able to see the rest of the story.
You see, the InBody Test doesn’t just measure weight. It also gives a detailed breakdown of body composition, including muscle, fat, and water.
Here’s the rest of the story regarding my 4-week weight-loss results:
- Total Body Water pounds: +7.9
- Dry Lean Mass: +2.8
- Body Fat pounds: -12.8
- Body fat percentage: -5.1%
I lost 12.8 pounds of fat and gained 2.8 pounds of muscle!
This InBody Test accounted for all of the changes between my body water weight, lean mass, and body fat, which is why my overall weight only moved two pounds.
When I considered this progress, I was blown away.
Had I not been given this additional information, I would have started slacking off on my new habits, maybe going back to drinking wine every night or indulging in cheesecake and Cheetos.
Or I might have done something drastic in the other direction, like limit my calories too much and increase my activity to an unhealthy and unrealistic level.
(Have I mentioned I tend to be obsessive-compulsive at times?)
Staying Motivated When You’re Not Losing Weight
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to stay motivated when the scale isn’t moving and you’re not losing weight. If you’re training and not losing weight, it can feel pointless if weight loss is your goal.
We tend to forget, as illustrated above, there is much more to it than simply how much you weigh.
That’s why we need to focus on things other than the scale and stopped getting all wrapped up in one metric.
In this case, the InBody Test results gave me the motivation to keep going despite what I considered to be a small loss.
So what do you do if you don’t go to a gym or have access to a body composition analysis tool?
I suggest looking for non-scale victories to stay motivated on your fitness and weight loss journey.
What Is a Non-Scale Victory?
I first heard about non-scale victories a few years ago when I participated in a different weight-loss challenge.
(As I said, the weight-loss obsession has been part of my story for a long time.)
A non-scale victory, or NSV, is any progress you make in your health and fitness journey unrelated to the scale and your weight.
Since then, I try to remember to factor in my non-scale victories. Noting my non-scale victories helps me overcome my fixation with how much I weigh on the scale.
Examples of Non-Scale Victories:
Shifts in Body Composition
Are you toning up? Getting tighter? Do you see any muscle definition where there wasn’t any before?
If you take body measurements before you start a fitness program, you can measure every few weeks to track progress.
Seeing that you’re losing inches can give your motivation a boost.
Your Clothes Fit Better
You might notice you are looking better in your clothes. Or more exciting, fitting into clothes you haven’t been able to button, snap, or zip since gaining weight.
You’re Eating Healthier
Something about working out and exercising seems to make us more conscientious of what we’re putting into our bodies.
Once I get in the groove of working out, I find I naturally make better food choices. I don’t even crave wine in the evenings like I used to.
Now that’s a big NSV.
You Feel Good Again
It’s fine to want to look good. But lately, I’ve been putting more emphasis on feeling good.
I can attest to this: when I’m active and eating healthier, I feel so much better about myself.
I am happier and more motivated and inspired. I feel lighter and more positive.
How do you FEEL about getting your butt to the gym or taking an invigorating walk or doing yoga?
I’m guessing you feel pretty good about yourself once you’re done.
Getting out of the house and getting some exercise makes you feel good physically and mentally. And that’s an incredible non-scale victory.
You Sleep Better and Feel More Rested
It may not seem like a non-scale victory, but it is. Why? Because sleep is so important for our health.
We need good sleep to recuperate, to function well mentally and physically.
And sleep also plays an important role in weight loss. Sleep is when your body repairs and rejuvenates itself.
You Have Increased Strength, Stamina, Endurance, and Energy.
One significant non-scale victory is the physical progress you are making when you stick with an exercise program.
One woman in my small training group couldn’t do more than a few push-ups on her knees 12 weeks ago. Today, she did push-ups on her toes. Real pushups!
That is progress worth celebrating as much if not more so than a big drop on the scale.
These are a few examples of non-scale victories.
They’re so important because they show us how we can turn our focus away from the scale and towards where it should be: overall health and well-being.
What Are You Trying to Accomplish?
And speaking of your health…. It’s important, from a mental standpoint, to know what you are trying to accomplish and why you are doing it.
Is the goal weight loss? To lose inches? To improve fitness, feel better, or any combination of those?
Why do you want to lose weight? What is driving you get fit? How will this make your life better?
Yes, one of my goals is to lose weight. But overall, my goals are so much more than simply losing weight.
I want to be able to move well. I want the agility and balance I used to possess.
I’m interested in maintaining and improving my functional movement, reducing my risk of injury as I age, keeping my bones strong, and reducing stress.
I want to feel good. I want to re-energize and reactivate the part of myself that used to feel alive when I was physical, that loved the intensity and working hard, that challenged herself.
Through working out consistently and working out, I am finding her again, and it feels amazing.
What Is Your Why?
My “why” has changed. My why used to be I wanted to look my best.
And that’s still part of my “why.”
But I also want to feel my best. I want to be my best.
I’m 46. I’m beginning to age. My body doesn’t move like it used to. My flexibility has decreased. I’m losing muscle.
My “why” is to prove to myself that age is only a number and I can be fit at any age.
My “why” is to be the healthiest I can be for my husband and my daughter.
My “why” is because I want to take back my health, my fitness, and my life.
My “why” is also to prove to myself that I am more than a number on the scale.
You Are More Than a Number on the Scale, Too
This practice of fretting about how much we weigh is only compounded when we tied our weight to our self-worth.
And a lot of us do it.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important. Don’t get me wrong. But I also believe it’s so important for us to stop fixating on one number and start looking at the whole picture.
More importantly, we must stop equating our self-worth with our weight.
We are so much more than the number we see when we step on the scale.
I’m tired of feeling deflated and frustrated when I step on the scale. How about you?
Instead of focusing on a number, let’s start looking at how our clothes are fitting and how we’re feeling.
Let’s work on getting stronger.
Let’s celebrate whether we’re in the gym or outside and moving.
Let’s be happy our bodies can do things. Let’s treat our bodies with respect instead of disdain.
Let’s speak positively about ourselves.
Focus On Your Wins
Let’s commit to focusing on our wins. Let’s celebrate our successes, both big and small.
Even if the success is we got off the sofa and exercised. Or that we chose an apple over apple pie.
Let’s celebrate when we feel good after a workout.
These are all wins, and we need to recognize them.
Our health and fitness journey is about much than losing weight.
We are more than the number on the scale. Don’t forget it.