If it feels like you’re engaged in a relentless battle with the scale — impatiently waiting for the number to plummet or you get discouraged and frustrated if it doesn’t budge or, what feels worse, it goes up — it’s time for a change. (This can also apply to underweight individuals striving to increase their bodyweight too.)
The scale can be a useful tool since it provides data that can be easily tracked (more on this at the end). If viewed subjectively, however — judging yourself “good” if it goes down and “bad” if it goes up or tying your self-worth to that number — then focusing on non-scale victories will do you good.
Stop fighting the scale and associating your self-worth with the number displayed on it and giving it the power to influence your emotions.
And, please, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying to abandon your fitness, health, or physique goals. I’m not saying you shouldn’t change the shape of your body if that’s what you want to do. I’m not saying you shouldn’t improve your health or establish health-promoting habits.
I am saying, if the number you see on the scale can affect your mood — if that number has any affect on your self-worth — then you should accumulate non-scale victories that will ultimately be responsible for the outcomes you desire.
If all you’ve known when it comes to food and fitness choices are weight loss and a smaller number on the scale, or you think that’s the only reason a woman can have to work out, then you should focus on some of the following 10 non-scale victories.
10 Things to Focus on Instead of the Scale
1) Set Performance-Focused Workout Goals
Shifting your focus from how your body looks and how much it weighs to what it can do creates a powerful dynamic. This is one of the beautiful benefits of strength training.
Can you deadlift your bodyweight for five reps? What about one-and-a-half times your bodyweight? Double bodyweight? As you can see, there are lots of milestones you can strive for with performance-based goals depending on your current strength and experience.
Not interested in deadlifting? No problem! Regardless of the equipment you prefer to use or the exercises you enjoy, there are plenty of performance-based milestones to tackle. The options are endless and can vary with your preferences (e.g.: focus on increasing a one-rep max, 10-rep max, etc.).
Other great performance-focused options include performing a set of push-ups on the ground for the first time, performing a one-arm dumbbell row with 25% of your bodyweight and progressing to 50%.
Whether you use dumbbells, bodyweight, or barbells or any combination thereof, there are myriad possibilities. If you don’t have any specific goals in mind, simply focus on doing a little better when possible when you repeat workouts. There are several done-for-you workout programs you can follow if you need a plan.
The performance focus applies to cardio too: run a mile in less time, perform high-intensity intervals at a greater RPM or resistance level, cover a greater distance in the same time period.
If you want to start collecting lots of non-scale victories that are empowering and motivating, focus on improving your performance with strength training and conditioning workouts (this is a powerful way to make cardio enjoyable).
Proudly discover what your body can do, then go do even more.
2) Eat Enough Fiber
You certainly didn’t expect to see “eat fiber” on the list of non-scale victories, but here we are. It’s estimated that US adults get around 15 grams of fiber per day. The USDA recommends consuming approximately 25-35 grams of fiber from food, not supplements (the amount varies according to age and sex; lower end for women).
Prioritize fiber-rich foods in meals and snacks to hit the target appropriate for you. Include whole grains (oatmeal, whole wheat, popcorn, quinoa), fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet.
Want a tasty smoothie that includes 10 grams of fiber and tastes like a chocolate shake? Click that link for the recipe and several variations. (This cookie dough dip recipe is incredible too, and has good-for-you fiber.)
Friendly tip: If you currently eat half of the recommended target or less, don’t immediately jump to 25 grams to avoid possible discomfort. Make small increases: go from 15 to 20 grams for a couple weeks, for example, then increase to 25. A gradual increase in fiber may help prevent stomach upset … and unwanted flatulence.
3) Focus on Habit-Forming Actions
We become what we repeatedly do. Don’t simply think about the outcome you desire (less body fat, more muscle definition), but rather, ask what you must do repeatedly to get there and bring that goal to fruition.
Then start collecting your habit-forming victories. Need some ideas to get going?
Perform three weekly strength training workouts. Schedule them on a calendar and treat them as cannot-miss appointments. Even if you “only” have 30 minutes to dedicate to the gym, you can achieve great results and solidify the workout habit with short workouts.
The important thing is that you show up and do the work, repeatedly. To boost adherence, set goals that get you motivated. You can’t go wrong getting strong!
Prepare meals for work-week lunches. Do this on Sunday to prepare for the week ahead or prepare them the prior evening. Prepping lunches for work achieves two things: you can ensure you eat protein- and fiber-rich meals that include a serving or two of veggies, and save money. Taking meals to work is much cheaper than going out to eat.
Those are two excellent habits to form, but choose what would be best for you and what you’d most enjoy when it comes to food and fitness. (Want to Learn to Lift? Click that link for an article to get you started.)
Identify a couple actions that will produce a lot of results, like the ones above, and implement them immediately.
4) Do Things That Make You Feel Great
Too many health and fitness journeys are defined by obsession, deprivation, frustration, guilt, and negative body image.
Do what you enjoy and do more things that make you feel good about yourself. Avoid resources that constantly have you comparing yourself to others or otherwise don’t help you become the best version of yourself.
5) Grab Low-Hanging Fruit
What are some simple changes you’re currently overlooking that could provide huge dividends over time?
Can you swap out sugar-laden beverages for water or a calorie-free option?
If you typically get a second serving of dessert, you can start enjoying one.
How about going to bed a little earlier?
Could you reduce your alcohol intake?
Stress is an inevitable part of life. How can you manage it better?
Can you exchange a calorie-dense daily snack with a nutrient-dense one? (Swapping out chips for a Greek yogurt cup and a piece of fruit, for example.)
Making big changes is good, but it often causes us to neglect the seemingly small adjustments we can make to daily habits. Small adjusts that compound with time can produce noticeable results. What small changes can you make?
6) Move Your Body, Daily.
Daily movement is good. Every day do something that gets you moving. That can mean strength training two to four times per week and doing anything else you like on the other days. Go for a 15-minute jog, play a sport, take a Yoga class, walk your dog, go for a hike or bike ride on weekends. Working in structured cardio with your favorite cardio equipment is a great option too.
Exercise is medicine. Get your daily dose.
7) Banish Guilt from Food Choices
Isn’t it terrible that we can feel guilty after eating a brownie or slice of pizza? Feeling shame after eating should never be considered an appropriate response. And yet, so many of us know that feeling all too well, in addition to thinking we must “earn” our food (news flash: you don’t).
Just as we can banish the suggestion that our self-worth is related to the number on the scale, we abolish feelings of guilt from eating. For a how-to explanation read Health and Fitness is Making a Mess.
8) Become a Master of Moderation
While we’re on the topic of food …
Did you know you can eat two slices of pizza instead of the usual three or four? At one point, I sure didn’t. The obsessive, all-or-nothing diet culture makes us view food through a dichotomous lens: there are “good” and “bad” foods. Foods you “can” eat and must-avoid foods. Either you’re on a diet and avoid “bad” foods, like pizza, or you give in to the cheesy temptation and eat half a pizza (or the entire thing because every pizza is a “personal” pizza, right?). Then you feel bad about it.
I screwed up by eating one piece, so what difference does it make if I eat a few more? we falsely rationalize.
But there is a middle ground. You don’t have to avoid your favorite foods, like pizza. You can also practice a little restraint if you’re trying to lose weight or improve your health, or simply want to boost self-control. If you, for example, usually eat four slices of pizza, you can eat two slices and have a side salad (without the high calorie add-ons like cheese, bacon, croutons, and fat-rich dressings); the high-fiber and -volume food will ensure you’re satiated while providing nutrition. No deprivation. No stress.
With favorite high-calorie foods, control the quantity — put a single serving on a plate, then put away the rest. Enjoy it, guilt free.
By practicing moderation, banishing all harmful labels like “good” and “bad” from our food choices, we can establish a better relationship with food. It can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort and gets easier with practice.
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9) Increase Adherence
Are you doing the things that must be done, consistently?
Having actions to focus on implementing is one thing — but only the doing produces results. If your adherence to nutrition and workout habits is sporadic at best, create a plan to boost it.
If you’re unable to adhere to three weekly strength training workouts, can you perform two per week?
If eating a protein- and fiber-rich breakfast feels like a constant struggle, how can you make it easier? Maybe prepare something in advance, like overnight oatmeal or make something quick like a smoothie in the morning.
Not eating as many vegetables as you’d like? Work some into your favorite meals by adding extra veggies to things like spaghetti sauce, a stir fry, or whatever meals you frequently prepare. Maybe try something new and super simple like oven-roasted Brussels sprouts.
Perhaps you don’t do any cardio work. Can you do something easier and more convenient like walking for 15-20 minutes after dinner?
Maybe you don’t adhere to your workout program because you don’t enjoy the exercises or program. There’s no shame in doing something else. Choose the exercise variations and equipment you enjoy or are confident using. For example, barbell lifting is currently very popular, and many people love to deadlift, squat, and press a barbell. But maybe you don’t. You can use dumbbells and cable machines, for example, and get a tremendous training effect.
10) Spend Less Time Thinking about Food and Fitness
Here’s an annoying paradox: the more one thinks about food and fitness and even weight loss, the harder it can seem to make any discernable progress.
A health and fitness lifestyle should complement, and fit into, your life; it shouldn’t dominate it.
If you know what it’s like to always be thinking about fat loss or obsessing over your next meal or impatiently waiting to shrink down to the next clothing size, spend less time thinking about food and fitness.
Do what must be done, then get on with your life.
Then take the extra time (and sanity!) not spent thinking about food and working out and invest it in another activity. Read more. Start a new hobby. Catch up with friends or family members. Do anything but think about this fitness stuff.
Make This a Lifestyle
Health and fitness must be a lifestyle — part of who you are what you do. In order to ensure adherence and enjoyment from that lifestyle, you need to establish intrinsically motivating reasons for making any necessary changes to your food and fitness habits.
Ask yourself: If the number on the scale wasn’t a factor, what would be your reasons for working out and eating healthfully?
Do you want to be stronger? Have greater endurance? Maintain and increase independence? Skyrocket your self-confidence? Be a role model to your children? Establish levels of physical fitness that allow you to excel at your favorite hobbies, or give you the necessary skills to try new ones? Decrease risk of disease?
Only wanting to see a smaller number on the scale or to slide into the next smallest clothing size won’t keep you motivated forever. Neither will trying to attain the approval of others. Find reasons that do.
How to Return to the Scale
You don’t have to avoid the scale forever. It can be a useful tool when viewed objectively to boost weight loss, weight gain, or help with maintenance. Daily weighing has been shown to help with weight loss and adoption of weight-control behaviors (study) and can help prevent holiday weight gain (study).
Before returning to the scale, should you choose to do so, mentally rehearse what that number means, and more importantly, what it doesn’t mean. The number reveals the gravitational force between you and the Earth. That’s it.
What it doesn’t show is even more important: nothing about your self-worth, success, or value as a human. Those are judgments added by us; they’re not there by default. Should you return to the scale, commit to banishing all subjective judgments; be patient and persistent with seeing the number as pure objective data.
Rehearse what that number is, and is not, every time prior to stepping on the scale, and go over it again once you get off. This repetition will help eliminate the subjective values we tend to associate with the number staring back at us.
Start collecting as many non-scale victories as you can, and experience the rewards for yourself.
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