When you’re trying to lose weight, the bathroom scale can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
Does this sound familiar?
Each day you tenderly step on, gaze into its smooth surface like Snow White’s evil Queen asking for confirmation of her beauty, then anxiously await the news that will either make or ruin the rest of your day.
If the scale pronounces an acceptable number, you can pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
However, if the scale should declare you are not, in fact, the fairest of them all, you immediately start second guessing all of your recent decisions and wondering where you went so terribly wrong.
If weight loss is your goal, motivation often hinges enormously on the numbers. We set certain goals and expectations, and if we don’t meet them, we get discouraged.
One of my clients recently confessed to setting a goal of losing three pounds a week. When she fell short of this goal, She told me, she got so down on herself and discouraged, she would then give up altogether.
First of all, three pounds a week is an unrealistic and unnecessary goal, but sadly not uncommon. We are a quick-return society. We want change but we don’t want to wait for it.
But when it comes to health and fitness, it takes time and we need to be patient.
Many people are falsely boosted by an initially large amount of pounds lost that occurs when a diet and exercise program is first started. It is not unusual to see a rapid weight loss of several pounds right out of the gate. This of course quickly levels off and in many cases, stalls.
In order to understand why, we need to look at the science behind what happens to your body when you begin a diet and exercise program.
Your body seeks to exist in homeostasis, so it will adjust to whatever your typical energy balance is, meaning how much you eat versus how much activity you do. When you suddenly change either of these, either by cutting calories or increasing activity (or both) your energy balance equation is disrupted. This is what causes initial weight loss (of course some of it is also attributed to water weight loss).
Because the body is determined to find its way back to homeostasis, it will quickly adjust to this new energy balance equation, and return to a place of maintenance. Weight loss slows or stops.
In order to counteract this natural process, you must continue to tip the energy balance equation with adjustments to diet and/or exercise, until you reach your goal.
But it is important to remember when trying to lose weight and live a healthier life, there are many factors equally (if not more so) important than numbers on a scale.
Because things like water retention and overall body composition play a role in body weight, your actual weight in pounds is not necessarily indicative of progress. Here are some other things to track which can help keep you motivated when the scale won’t budge:
– Take measurements. You might be losing inches without losing pounds.
– How do you feel? Do you have more energy? Are you sleeping better? If the answer is yes then you are on the right track.
– Pay attention to changes in your appearance that indicate improved overall health: your eyes look brighter, your skin may be clearer, your hair healthier, etc.
– Take photos so you can visually track your progress. Look for changes to your shape, new muscle you didn’t have before. What’s more motivating than that?
Remember, it’s not about being a certain size or weight. We should all be working towards living a healthier and fuller life. If you get stuck on reaching a certain number, you will lose track of what really matters, which is overall quality of life. If you lose weight and eat better, you will feel better. You will have more energy for things like playing with your kids. You will be happier, have better relationships and enjoy activities more. A pound here or there is nothing compared with living a longer and fuller life.