3 ways to keep the scale from being the only voice in your head

June 22, 2011

For many people, talking about weight loss means talking about weight. Well, duh, right? Of course weight loss is about weight, Serena. What else is it about?

But shouldn’t we expand the conversation a little more?

The reason I bring this up is that when most people say, “I want to lose weight,” what they really want is to be smaller, right? You don’t hear them saying, “I want to stay the exact size I am right now but I wish the scale showed 125 pounds.”

I think if they were given the chance to rephrase that, they’d say something like this instead: “I don’t really care how much I weigh, as long as I can fit into my skinny jeans,” or “…as long as I can look like I did on my wedding day.”

Think about it: Would you give a flying fig what your weight was as long as you could be the size you wanted to be? I mean, sure, it’d be nice not to bust the porch swing, but I’d rather do that and look cute doing it than be light as a feather but look like I ate a Volkswagen. Bus.

So when you think about it that way, why are we so hung up on that bathroom scale?

It doesn’t make sense, and yet we’re conditioned to view it as the most important, or even the only, indicator of success in our weight loss efforts. Which is why “weight loss” may not be the best term to use. Especially when you take into consideration the fact that when you lose weight, it matters what that weight consisted of. What’s that—did I hear you say you don’t care? But believe me, it does matter.

Was it water weight? (Inevitable but temporary and prone to fluctuate widely.) Was it actually fat? (Great!) Or could it have been muscle? (Not good. You need that muscle to burn fat with.)

It might be better to call it “getting fit,” “getting in shape,” “getting healthy,” “fitness regimen,” or something along those lines. But decades and decades of talk about “losing weight” make it hard to get used to alternative phrases that don’t roll off the tongue as easily. Besides, in most cases, getting fit or healthy does mean that one will lose weight, maybe a lot of weight. So it’s not necessarily an inaccurate way to speak of it.

But regardless of what terms we use during our own “weight loss” journey, it’s good to keep in mind the other ways that we can measure our progress.

1. How are your clothes fitting?

The next time your scale says that your weight hasn’t budged, or (gasp!) has even gone up, think about what else is happening to (and in) your body. In my case, what’s more important to me than the number on the scale is that my clothes are a little looser. I know the angst in my weigh-day reports may sometimes belie that claim, but once I calm down and think about it, I am able to get past the number and look at my size instead.

That’s why I have set aside a few articles of clothing to try on at various points throughout my “journey to hotness land.” (See, there’s another new phrase.) I am not brave enough to demonstrate these try-on sessions, but I am documenting how they fit verbally. You can read the “before” post here.

You can do this too by seeing which belt hole you can use to buckle, how close you are to buttoning a pair of jeans or a shirt, or even just being aware of how tight or loose certain clothing feels. If you have a favorite outfit, you are probably pretty familiar with how it feels on your body. You’ll notice when it starts fitting differently. And even though you like it, you’ll be happy that you are going to be forced to find a new, smaller favorite outfit.

2. What does the measuring tape have to say?

The handy-dandy little tape measure often gets overlooked during “I’ve got to lose weight!” panic mode. But it can be your savior when the scale isn’t being nice.

It’s a good idea to take your “before” measurements at some point early in your journey, preferably before you begin (obviously) but if you didn’t, you still should. You will at least be able to see the progress from this point on.

I took measurements of my neck, bust, arms, waist, hips, thighs, and calves and am documenting those on my progress page. For the report, I’m averaging the measurements of both arms to come up with one number; same with thighs and calves so I don’t have to list two different numbers for each, because sometimes I’m a little lopsided. But I am keeping track of each individual side for my own personal information. I’m also taking one more measurement about halfway between my waist and my hips, and calling it “abs” because this is a trouble spot for me. It’s just not normally included in a list of measurements, so I’m not putting it on the site.

Anyway, it’s a good idea to take your measurements on a regular basis. I do it once a month. This way you can see irrefutable proof that you are indeed shrinking.

Of course, there will be times when neither the scale nor the tape measure nor the fit of your clothing has appeared to change. On days like that, there’s one more thing to consider.

3. What’s happening on the inside?

There will be times when you feel fat and bloated and ugly and think you haven’t accomplished anything. It can be tough to remember that the overall effect on your body has been positive even when the progress isn’t showing on the outside.

I’ve read Covert Bailey’s excellent “Fit or Fat” books over and over, and one of the things he says is that your body keeps sort of an internal list of what needs attention. When you start to eat right and exercise, it says, “Okay, I’m going to get busy fixing things on this list.”

The things that show, like fat, are often not the highest thing on the body’s priority list. So even when you don’t see results right away on the outside, you can be sure the body’s working away to fix those inside things first. Eventually, it will get enough things crossed off the list so that it can turn more of its attention to fatburning and toning.

Also, remember that if you have a lot of fat showing on the outside, that means there’s also fat built up inside around your muscles and organs. That has to go first before the “top layer” goes.

I realize that’s an extremely oversimplified explanation, and I hope that I’ve expressed it correctly, but it does remind us that exercise and a good diet are benefiting us even when we don’t think they are. When you hit a plateau, try to remember that your body is not impervious to your efforts. It simply may have a different set of priorities than you do. It’ll come around—have faith!

The last word

The bottom line is this: It would be a mistake to allow a seeming lack of progress to derail your efforts to get in shape, get fit, lose weight—whatever you want to call it. Progress is being made. The only way to get past a plateau is to keep going. I doubt that anyone reaches their target weight or size without hitting at least one plateau, so to let one stop you means you’ll never, ever get the body you want. It’s that simple.

Onward and downward!

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