21 micro habits that make weight loss stick #11: Get a grip on the scale

Have you ever had a day ruined by getting freaked out after a weigh-in? Ever been scared to see the consequences of a day’s eating and avoided the scale?

There’s no law you have to weigh every day or week if you’re trying to achieve weight loss, says food psychology coach Laura Lloyd.

The most important thing, she says, is to manage your mind around what the scale tells you.

Some schools of food psychology will tell you to pop your scale in the middle of the road and run over it a few times, and never allow one back into your house.

If that sounds exhilarating, that’s perhaps a sign that you have been living under the tyranny of weight numbers over the course of your life and have given that object a lot of power and invested a lot of drama into it.

Your mental health is more important than your weight.

So if obsessing over your weight is causing you anguish, depression, taking over your headspace, and sucking the blood out of your genius, then we have to address all that thinking before we should even consider going near any ambition to try to influence your weight.

Those same schools of food psychology that advise not weighing yourself, tend to also eschew weight loss altogether.

Personally, I don’t think you have to give up on weight loss, or ditch your scale necessarily, to find peace in your relationship with food – it’s not one or the other – because it’s not the weight loss project that is causing you to feel so taken over; it’s your thoughts about it.

Ditching the scale is on one hand a radical feminist act, like binning your high heels or deciding to let your pit hair grow – I’m down with all of that. 

But on the other hand, it reminds me of a picture in a very old and tattered version of the fairy tale Thorn Rose (Sleeping Beauty) that I have. The King, knowing that his daughter has a curse on her to prick her finger on a spindle, is ordering every spinning-wheel in the land to be burnt.

But, we live in a world where scales exist.

And magazines. And miniskirts. And music videos. And Instagram. And…

I can delay my girls’ influence from these things, but ultimately, I need their minds to be savvy enough to be able to retain their own integrity around these things.

I don’t make my clients weigh themselves. 

To be fair, there have been times when I’ve even recommended someone take a break from the scale (rather than breaking the scale), when they really needed to put weight loss on the back burner while they reset their mindset around food and body.

But if you want weight loss, at some point you’re going to need some feedback on whether what you’re doing is working.

My approach is always to try to give you the tools to control your mind around the scale, rather than take away the trigger.

Same with the foods that you usually go ‘to hell with it’ and eat the whole lot – you don’t need to be constantly trying to avoid cake your whole life, you just need to learn how to eat cake like a Pro.

You should know, weight behaves quite weirdly. That’s normal.

It’s a crude measure of whether what you’re doing is working. Day-to-day weighing doesn’t reflect reality very accurately.

A little bit of my story:

I didn’t weigh myself my whole life. Actually, as a mother of girls, I’m keen not to have a scale visible to them in the house – I don’t want my girls to grow up thinking their weight is something they should be aware of. I want them to be oblivious for as long as possible.

But, I wanted to experience what my clients feel when they weigh, and I wanted to  lose a little weight too, so I considered it.

I was really reluctant to break the habit of a lifetime – not giving a crap about the numbers.

And then, when I did get a scale, I just thought weighing daily was a bit excessive.

But then, when I looked at the psychology studies, I realised that it’s proven – daily weighing is far more effective than even weighing a few times a week in terms of weight loss. I guess it just keeps your goals uppermost in your mind, and keeps you really focused and aware of the weight loss you’re trying to create.

So I started as an experiment to weigh every day.

I quickly got a shock. My weight could vary 5lb overnight!

So, it turns out this is water weight, depends on things like your salt intake, your cycle.

Also, just to add nuance to the whole weight issue, not all your weight is fat and not all weight loss is positive – your muscle weighs far more than your fat, so if you build muscle through working out while losing fat, your weight may hardly alter while your body composition changes significantly.

Since I started weighing myself daily, I have experienced first hand, how:

  • It becomes a habit, the day doesn’t feel ‘right’ if I skip it.
  • Scary it can be to weigh yourself if you regret yesterday’s food choices.
  • Sometimes I can’t face my own drama and want not to face the number at all.
  • Brilliant it can feel when you see your efforts at taming your food behaviours reflected in your results.

To counteract the dramatic ups and downs, I found a neat free app called Happy Scale. That helps a little. It takes the weight fluctuation and shows you the trend, so it’s smoothing out those crazy peaks and exciting dips your weight randomly does. This is good information.

Laura Lloyd

Food psychology coach

The scale doesn’t have the power to encourage you, or make you feel optimistic about your weight loss journey.

It may feel like it does. It’s your thoughts about the number that encourage you.

Or discourage you. It’s what you make the number mean about you, and about weight loss, and about success, and about effort.

Here are some common interpretations and reactions to the number on the scale:

Scale goes down:

  • “Yay! This is a good day! I’m attractive! All my efforts are paying off!”
  • “Fab! Let’s celebrate with a treat.”
  • “Whoa! I’m not used to success. Let me just binge and victim myself back into my comfort zone of self-hate.”

Whereas you could say:

What did I do that worked last week, that I don’t want to lose?

I’m doing so brilliantly, I’m proud of me. I’m going to take some time to have a bath with a lovely book tonight.

I notice I’m getting the urge to celebrate with food – let me grab my journal and explore that.

How does success make me feel? Am I used to taking it in? Can I praise myself?

Am I ever good enough, in my own eyes?

Scale goes up:

  • “Panic! The day is ruined! I’m disgusted with myself. I’m so fat and ugly.”
  • “It’s not fair, I’ve been doing all the things! What’s the point?”
  • “I’m screwed anyway, I might as well eat all I want”.
  • “I always fail at weight loss.”

Whereas you could say:

Looks like that pizza I had two night ago caught up with me. I’ll go easy next time.

Hmm. Something in my efforts hasn’t clicked yet. I wonder which of my habits to work on next?

I’ll keep going, come what may. Bit by bit, I’m figuring this out.

This is just where I am today. This changes nothing about how I’m going to show up for myself today.

I need to look after myself, this can affect me emotionally, I’m going to make sure I tell myself all the good that I’m doing and keep encouraging myself.

It’s disappointing, but every weight loss journey has ups and downs. This is part of it.

Scale stays the same:

  • “Not fair! I’m working so hard!”
  • “This programme doesn’t work. I’m going to start browsing the internet for different diets.”
  • “When am I ever going to lose weight?”

Whereas you could say:

I’m enjoying all my good efforts for myself so far. So much in my life is changing for the better already.

I’m not stopping and starting any more. I’m going to patiently and diligently work out my relationship with food. That’s the most important thing here.

I might be disappointed by this number this week, but I was elated by this same number last week when it was two pounds less than the week before. I’m glad to be where I am, learning what I’m learning.

Bottom line is, the scale is a machine, and it just spits out a number.

You need to arm yourself with a pencil and paper and write out the thoughts you’re having BEFORE you step on the scale. Get to know all the meanings you’re attributing to the trend of your weight. Get to know all the clamour that’s in your head first thing in the morning.

Lose the mental weight first. Then the physical weight will come off so much easier.

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Yes please!

Just a little side note from me:

Self-judgment is never even slightly helpful, people, if you want to lose weight.

It will stop you in your tracks. Self-judgment creates inaction.

I mean, we think it’s failure that’ll stymie success. That’s not true.

As Brooke Castillo says, failure is not the opposite of success. Inaction is the opposite of success.

Essentially, feeling like a human car crash because you have a lot of thoughts that aren’t helping you, and a lot of habitual behaviours bothering you, just makes it painful to look at what you’re doing, and analyse it.

Which is why we put off leaning in and looking at what we’re really doing when we’re messing up.

But when we do look at it with curiosity, it’s SUCH a relief!

It’s your ability to go into ‘data analysis’ and 'I'm learning new skills' mode that takes the drama out of your weight loss journey:

Scale gone up? Just data – which habit or skill do I need to learn next?

Mum make a snide remark about how you’re ‘getting too thin’? Just data – how can you let other people’s opinions wash off you like water off a duck’s back?

Notice that you ‘can’t’ sit down to work without a road snack to get from the kitchen to your desk? Just data – what am I thinking and feeling about my work?

Go all-out on chocolate one day, and body feels sick and jittery afterwards? Just data – what was I thinking and feeling that day? Does this information from my body change how I think about ‘how much I love’ chocolate?

Self-doubt creates overwhelm. Overwhelm stops you starting. And, once again – that inaction is the opposite of success – not failure.

Failure is very informative. Failure means you’re trying things. It increases your probability of hitting on a solution.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach, The School of Food Psychology

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