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Taking the Emotion out of my Weigh-ins

Thursday, February 21, 2013

One of the topics that I touched upon in my last blog was how taking the emotion out of my weigh-ins has proven to be a useful tool for me not only in terms of weight loss, but also as part of my continued efforts in maintenance. One of my SparkFriends, who admits she is still struggling with this issue even after several successful years on maintenance, suggested I write a blog outlining how I was able to do that, so I thought I'd share my experiences and offer up some food for thought on the matter.

Using the scale as an indicator of success seems to be a hot and somewhat controversial topic these days and it's understandable why. If you allow your daily emotions to be dictated by the number you see on the scale, that can be a positive thing if those numbers are going where you'd like them to. However, if you feel as though you're making a Herculean effort to lose weight and your efforts aren't rewarded with a drop on the scale, it's easy to become demoralized and feel like giving up. To ward off those negative feelings, many people choose to focus on other indicators of success or Non-Scale Victories (NSVs), such as increased athletic performance, measurements like the waist-to-hip ratio, how your clothes fit, body fat percentage or overall health. While all of these are worthy points to analyze, I propose that using the scale as an indicator of success is not an invalid one. We just need to learn how to use it productively and without an emotional attachment.

I'm the first to admit that I used to let the number on the scale dictate my happiness when it came to my own weight management in the past and that I often tried my hardest to outsmart it. Back when I did Weight Watchers, I would be overjoyed if the numbers went down and depressed if they didn't. The trouble was that I typically wasn't very honest with myself and often didn't compare my diet and exercise habits with the results I saw on the scale. I secretly felt like I had gotten away with something if I had "cheated" the previous week and still lost weight.

The first step I took towards reconciling my adversarial relationship with the scale was taking an honest look at my habits and how they compared with the numbers I saw on the scale. I began weighing, measuring and tracking my food and using the various charts that are available here on SparkPeople to establish trends. I came to learn just where I needed to be from week to week in terms of diet and exercise to see the losses I wanted. The result wasn't always perfect eating habits or a consistent drop on the scale, but it did establish a useful blueprint for me to follow and, for the first time ever, I had developed a concrete plan that worked for me and was adapted to my lifestyle and preferences. In a nutshell, I began to look at the scale as a scientific tool and started using myself as a guinea pig to experiment with the strategies that worked best for me.

Just as I used the information I plotted in my charts from week to week to develop a long-term eating and exercise plan for weight loss, I also used the charts that documented my weight loss to take a broader look at my progress. If I was struggling, I'd take a look back at what I was doing in one of my more successful periods and tried to reintroduce those habits and patterns. On a more micro level, I also began weighing myself daily. Now I know that this is also a controversial issue, but I personally find that daily weigh-ins help keep me closely connected to my more minor fluctuations and the things that cause them. As a result of my daily weigh-ins, I've come to learn that my weight can often fluctuate up to nearly five pounds within any given week due to a number of factors--eating a particularly big meal the night before, eating a lot of simple carbohydrates later in the day or just plain eating a lot later in the day, not to mention the effect that my body's natural hormonal cycles can have on my weight. But, in general, if I'm keeping up my healthy habits, things almost always work out at the end of a week and the numbers are more or less where I expect them to be. I now anticipate minor fluctuations from day to day, but don't rely on them to paint a complete picture of my progress. How I find my daily weigh-ins most useful is when an uptick begins to become a longer-term trend. That's when I know that I need to take action and have a good look at the behaviors that could be causing my weight gain and correct them.

As I approach one year on maintenance, I still utilize all of these strategies to help keep me on track. Since staying the same isn't very exciting, I do use other indicators to gauge my progress and to give me something to strive for other than the great feeling that comes from being in good health. I'm a big fan of weight training and love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from being able to lift heavier. I also frequently take progress pictures and have seen the difference sticking to a consistent eating and exercise plan has made even if my weight has stayed more or less the same.

But at the beginning of almost every day, I still weigh myself. I just use the numbers I see more rationally and as one of many components of the bigger picture of my success.
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