The Weight Loss Numbers Game

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on November 8, 2011

DEAR FFG: Last year, I lost about 32 pounds and then, before reaching my goal, I gained back about 12 of those pounds. I had been on a diet program that required you to purchase meals from them, and it got too expensive. Plus, I wanted to start cooking for myself and really making a life change. I have been struggling for about a year now, fluctuating by about 7 to 10 pounds up and down. I have been working out but have not been really pushing myself, so this week I started running one mile a day. I feel really good and have more energy and have been eating better as well. But some mornings — like this morning — I get discouraged. I feel like I worked out hard yesterday and really wanted to see a difference on the scale this morning … and my weight actually went up. On days like this, how do you stay focused on your goal? — Laurie

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DEAR LAURIE: The question is, what IS your goal? It sounds like it’s a number. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be, you ask? While it’s pretty standard to have a goal weight to shoot for, I would say that pinning your hopes and dreams on a number pulled out of the sky — or even off some height/weight chart— is part of the problem here. For one thing, you don’t know if that number really represents a healthy weight for your body or your lifestyle. That number on the scale is influenced by so many different things — hormones, genetics, muscle-to-fat ratio, water retention — many of which you can’t control. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see the results of yesterday’s workout on the scale today — that’s just not the way your body works. So you’re setting yourself up for frustration if you make a number your only measure of success.

The other thing is, it’s too easy to fool yourself into thinking that once you reach that number, you’re done. And we all know that kind of thinking is what makes us repeat offenders, losing, then gaining, then losing again. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for having a target to shoot for. But I think it’s more effective to look at your energy level and self-confidence than stepping on the scale. Because those ARE results, and they’re just as important as what’s happening with your body. The better you feel, the more likely you are to treat yourself right, to continue those behaviors that will lead you to a healthier life and a healthier weight.

I would also suggest shifting your focus so that your goals are things you can (for the most part) control. For instance, exercising three days a week, eating five servings of veggies a day or not snacking after 7 p.m. — focus on those BEHAVIORS instead of the number. Because the fact is that those are behaviors that must become part of your life if you are to make your weight loss stick. So, refocus. Give yourself props for yesterday’s workout, for eating better. Ride the good vibes you’re feeling now. Stay off the scale — get on once a week if you must, but don’t put too much emphasis on where that needle is. Start tracking your workouts and getting really specific about your food goals, so you can see when you’re hitting the mark and when you might be missing it. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s the game you’ve got to play if you want to get to a healthy weight — and stay there.