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(Don't) Keep on Playing those Mind Games

Friday, February 22, 2013

As I've mentioned in some of my previous blogs, I'm a big fan of regular weigh-ins because they keep me honest and they keep me on track. However, there is a darker side of frequent weigh-ins that I feel also needs to be addressed: when weigh-ins become obsessive and unproductive towards helping us meet our goals.

I once lurked on that dark side. I'd play tricks to see how I could get the numbers on the scale to go down, some of which were outright unhealthy, and was guilty of jumping on the scale multiple times a day to see how my eating and exercise affected my weight. Back when I did Weight Watchers, I hated the idea of weighing in fully clothed and later in the day. As a result, I'd dress in layers in the coldest months and would strip down to the minimum essentials decency would allow before hopping on the scale. And even though I often attended meetings in the evening, I'd stop in first thing in the morning to weigh-in before eating or drinking anything. One time, I guzzled at least a gallon of water the day before a weigh-in and gained two pounds. As a result, I developed a fear of drinking too much water leading up a weigh-in and would limit myself to two glasses the day before. At one point, I even started taking laxatives the day before weighing in to "flush out my system". Did these things make a difference? Maybe they affected my weight for the better by a pound or two, but the potential damage I was doing to my physical and mental health was huge. I would often feel severely dehydrated on weigh-in days because I had drunk so little the whole day before and I shouldn't be surprised that I currently have electrolyte imbalance issues--it's extremely likely that this is a result of my laxative abuse and I feel very lucky that I didn't experience more serious consequences.

Why did I do all of these things? Much of the time I was already at a reasonably healthy weight, so it wasn't like I was desperate to lose. Sure, I had never been successful at keeping weight off and that definitely contributed to many of my fears and subsequent behaviors, but I had clearly stepped over into the dark side. I had allowed my journey that was supposed to be towards better health turn into one that was incredibly unhealthy in a lot of ways. And I was so fixated on the numbers on the scale that I was oblivious to the damage I was doing to myself both physically and mentally in an effort to reach the coveted number I had in my head.

So how did I change my mentality and shift my focus from weight alone to overall good health? Although I have a specific number in my mind that I like to stay under, I came to realize that no one but me notices if I'm two or three pounds over or under that number. It just doesn't make all that much of a difference and it's really more of a mind game I play with myself. Generally, the times when I take the focus off of weight loss are the times when I do the best, like when I started transitioning to maintenance. I was focusing on keeping up my healthy habits, such as following a balanced and moderate diet, exercising regularly, keeping up with my weight training and drinking my water, with an emphasis on learning how to maintain as opposed to losing. The unexpected result was that I lost another ten pounds during this process--all while making far less effort to lose than I had during some of my more maniacal weight-loss periods.

I also realized that just because I was able to achieve a certain weight at some point in my life, that didn't mean that it was a sensible weight for me now. I weighed 135 back in high school (at the lower end of the BMI range for my height) and think I looked and felt good. But I didn't do any weight training at all and my lifestyle was dramatically different. I also wasn't able to keep the weight off. Now, a sensible range for me is 10 to 15 pounds more than that taking into account my lifestyle differences and the sustainability factor. Looking back at pictures, I think I look pretty much the same, if not better, at 145-150 as I did at 135.

As a maintainer, I often hear phrases like "stay vigilant," "maintenance is hard work" and "the effort doesn't stop once you reach goal". While all of these things are true, there comes a point when vigilance can turn into an obsession, perhaps even more once you're at a healthy weight and all the more tangible goals you had before seem to dissipate.

"I'm already at a healthy weight, but why not try for another five or ten pounds?"

"I weighed 135 in high school, so why not try for that number now just for the fun of the challenge?"

These are just a few of the thoughts that have raced through my head after reaching goal and that worry me. Keeping up a maintenance lifestyle shouldn't be incredibly stressful and I think it's important to become content with staying the same and with who we are "as is". Feeling as though we have to strive for a particular number (that may well be unattainable and unrealistic) can sometimes just be a recipe for making ourselves and those around us crazy--and that's not how I want to live the rest of my life. I want to live with the joy of knowing that I've succeeded in doing something that is really tough and that I did it in the best possible way for my physical and mental health. To me, that's more validation than any number on the scale could ever provide.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Another great blog! I definitely needed this one today. Thanks!
    1850 days ago
  • -AMANDA79-
    Your scale blogs have really been hitting home with me. Getting close to that dark side and not liking it. Thanks for posting!
    1851 days ago
    I think its human nature to try unhealthy things just to achieve a goal. I've seen guys use nutritional supplements (not steroids) in order to get a better athletic performance: running faster or benching more weight.
    1851 days ago
    Killer blog. I think as I get more toned, I will feel more comfortable at a bit higher weight.
    1851 days ago
  • MKELLY72
    I use the scale the same way--I'm so glad that most of the time I'm able to take the emotion out of it. My best friend who has traveled this weight loss/healthy living journey with me has never been able to do that. She gets too upset at the daily ups and downs of it, and she takes it personally. I like seeing the data and trends and evaluating what may be influencing major fluctuations (like sodium almost always precedes a significant uptick)
    I'm glad I'm not the only one who does this--and I'm glad I've found a way to not obsess about it--just collect the data :)

    2/25--I just realized I posted this on the wrong blog--this was intended for the "take the emotions out of weigh-ins" blog. That's what I get for not being able to compose a reply when I first started reading this :)

    An actual reply to this thread: Oh I have seen the dark side of weigh-ins too--just last week, I'm guilty of getting to a morning weigh-in on purpose before eating anything and wearing the most weightless dress I could find, so I could be within my 2 pound allowance for Lifetime. I found out from my leader at same weigh-in that I just have to fill out an official paper to change my goal weight, so I don't put myself through this kind of stress and ridiculous behavior again.
    1851 days ago

    Comment edited on: 2/25/2013 11:36:03 AM
    Great blog post! As a Weight Watcher's member I, too, know how scale obsessive one can become. I still weigh myself daily in the morning, but I'm doing much better these days in removing the obsessive feelings previously associated with it. Non-scale goals are so much better to focus on!
    1851 days ago
    The feelings of obsession with every pound even after attaining goal weight is all too familiar to me. But like you I'm coming to the realization that no-one but me recognizes those 2-3 pounds extra except me. It is so true. I'm also realizing that those 2-3 pounds are often just normal fluctuations throughout the week and don't panic so much over them. I too weigh every day, but never at any time other that morning first thing in the nude. I'd just be torturing myself otherwise with all those fluctuations.

    Yes maintaining shouldn't be so stressful, I agree. I hope to attain to that!
    1851 days ago
  • _JODI404
    I really love this: " I want to live with the joy of knowing that I've succeeded in doing something that is really tough and that I did it in the best possible way for my physical and mental health. To me, that's more validation than any number on the scale could ever provide."

    Well said.

    1851 days ago
    Thanks for the warning and the thought provoking blog. I've just recently begun thinking about the need to add muscle, which would add pounds. I really don't care about the number on the scale as long as I feel and look good and that number stabilizes to something I can maintain. I have some thinking to do... Thanks.
    1852 days ago
    WOW!!!! Your blogs are emoticon emoticon
    1852 days ago
    I cringe when I recall what I went through to make weigh-ins in the military, since I seemed constantly near my max allowed weight and at that time had to deal with the monthly weight gain. Like you, I skipped the water to dehydrate myself and took laxatives. In addition, I would sweat in the sauna till I was almost ready to pass out. Have to wonder how many years I stripped off my life with those unhealthy practices. Today, I weigh every day, always under the same conditions. Not an obsession...just helps me spot trends.
    1852 days ago
  • KANOE10
    When I would join various weight loss programs, I would get obsessive about the scale. I would wear layers like you before the weigh in or not drink water.

    I think you are right about enjoying your weight and being happy with it. I still weigh everyday to keep in focus, but don't get hysterical about up pounds. Like you I stay determined to work them back down.

    Good for you finding a goal weight that works for you. You look wonderful. Plus staying under goal is a great success.
    1852 days ago
    Great blog! And while what you say is so true for maintainers, I think it's also very true for those of us losing. There is a dark side and there is a healthy way to use the scale. Further, there is an unhealthy number to achieve with obsessive behavior, and a stable, reasonable way to lose weight. I think what made IOWL so beneficial for me was the emphasis on pleasure. That releasing weight should be joyful, not hard. That if you have to struggle, it's not going to be lasting and it isn't a healthy, sustainable way to live. And again, though I'm not exactly a model of success, I do feel that I use the scale only as a tool, and that when I'm eating well, it's foods that give me loads of pleasure in portions that I can eat for life.
    1852 days ago
    Sometime last year, I sat down and had a talk with myself. I ended up writing a blog to keep for my reference about when I would be done, because I knew that I have a tendency to keep reaching for lower and lower. For example, back in 2001, I got down to 135 lbs and loved the way I looked, but I kept trying to lose because I thought I needed to get back to 125 lbs. I got to 131 before I got pregnant and started pregnancy gain, and I was never satisfied, even though I looked great. I don't want to do that again. That is why I decided to start transitioning to maintenance NOW instead of when I actually get to goal - I don't know for sure exactly where "goal" will be. It will depend on my body and the amount of muscle I have on me. I know what my body will look like when I get there, and it might not be the same number on the scale as it used to be because of the difference in muscle mass. That's why I wrote the blog - to make sure I am less obsessed with numbers, and seeing myself for what's really going on. That's going to be the hardest part of transitioning to maintenance for me - moving from measuring my progress by numbers to other things.
    1852 days ago
    Great blog! Years ago I was in TOPS and reached goal, maintaining it for over 5 years; but it was by doing all the unhealthy things you describe and more! I drank coffee by the pot and diet pop by the case! I even had a "weightless dress" for weigh ins. A little dacron number that weighed practically nothing! Nuts, I know. Crashed and quit everything and put all the weight back on and more. I've been all the way down and back up higher than ever EVERY DECADE of my adult life until my 60's! Now, I'm like a kid again! It is a lifestyle change and there is no going back. emoticon
    1852 days ago
  • GABY1948
    This is SO true...I am still on the dark side (I'm almost 65) and I battle the scale so much that I stay off it for now so I don't blitz out! Thank you for a great blog!
    1852 days ago
    One thing that has been incredibly difficult for me to convey is that not all weight is created equal. Weight loss is not fat loss. You want to keep most of your weight. Muscle, bones, organs, etc are all good weight. Fat is (mostly) bad weight. Fluid weight is completely inconsequential. Like totally, totally meaningless. Yet, fluid weight is the cause of daily fluctuations and what people get emotional about. I think I've broken my palm across my forehead watching this. It's painful to see people go through it.

    Increase good weight, decrease bad weight, ignore meaningless weight. The scale doesn't distinguish, which is why I dislike it as the "final answer" on success/failure.

    Also, I would argue that 2-3 pounds "no one notices" is probably more like 10-20 pounds if you put on the good weight and lose the bad weight. I think you see that yourself comparing yourself between now and your younger years.
    1852 days ago
    Great blog again!
    Usually you are like this little voice in my head that tells to do or not to do some things. We are both on maintenance (and about the same time) so you really express some of my thoughts.

    Fortunately I was never obsessed with numbers and I never did anything extreme (i.e. taking laxatives) but there was a huge scandal in Greece some years ago about a "dietician" who prescribed laxatives and diuretics to many celebrities. In the end, the authorities found out she wasn't licensed and she went to jail.

    In pharmacies they still ask young girls and ladies who go there to buy laxatives and diuretics what they want them for. I went to a pharmacist who didn't know me to buy diuretics for my grandpa and I had to explain him my grandpa's medical condition in order to convince him to give them to me.
    1852 days ago

    Comment edited on: 2/22/2013 6:39:59 AM
    Gosh, I've been there too! And that weigh in is one of the chief reasons I've never tried Weight Watchers. My approach to the number on the scale is I give myself a number to stay below, for some reason it's reducing my anxiety about weighing myself.
    Thanks for posting this!
    1852 days ago
    I rarely weigh myself because I become obsessed with the number. I generally use my clothes that are form fitting to keep me in check. Great blog!
    1852 days ago
    i'm in that category too - it's the one thing i am still sticking too in maintenance, but i tell myself (and i believe it is so) that the scale is what is keeping me honest, along with recording exercise (miles). i don't play the games to make the scale go down, but i am a multiple weigher - just to make sure. but it is important to avoid moving to the dark side, as you put it!
    1852 days ago
    Like you, I think the line between vigilance and obsession can be tricky. I guess the question is how much focus is needed to maintain our healthy goals. Avoiding the scale doesn't work for me, that I know.

    What I do know is that we'll figure it out! Cuz we're committed.

    Have a great Spark day and thanks for the thoughtful blog.
    1852 days ago
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