There's a diabolical machine in most American homes that fuels self-sabotage, the No. 1 killer of weight loss-related commitments. It's a seemingly innocuous machine -- but if you're trying to lose weight, using it may all but guarantee you won't. Or, if you do lose weight, that you gain it all back.
I'm a personal trainer who used to weigh more than 300lbs. After a lifetime of dieting, losing weight, and then gaining it back, I finally got to a comfortable weight. I've maintained that weight for over a decade, in part because I finally stopped using this machine: the bathroom scale.
When and how getting on the scale fuels self-sabotage varies from person to person, but for most folks who struggle with self-sabotage, one thing is clear: Seeing what you weigh when you're trying to weigh less all but ensures that you'll weigh more.
I know. I wasted years having weight-loss progress halted by stepping on the scale, regardless of whether I'd lost, gained, or stayed the same.
When my weight stayed the same
I can remember many times I got on the scale feeling great -- better-rested, well-hydrated, stronger, and more calm -- because I'd been eating only healthy food and hitting the gym every day. Then I got on the scale. If my weight hadn't changed, all that good stuff flew from mind. Accomplishment turned to despair. Then I'd drag my defeated ass to the nearest cafe and do myself and my diet some serious damage.
In life, there are few things that healthy eating and regular exercise don't improve. One of the consequences of getting on the scale -- which may or may not say what you want it to say on any given day -- is that you lose sight of how great you feel. Once you lose sight of the pleasure you're feeling, keeping healthy commitments becomes even harder.
Instead of getting on the scale, pay attention to how satisfying it feels to wake up after a good night's sleep. Notice and enjoy it if work feels better because you're calm and can cope with the bullshit better. Don't get distracted by what you may or may not weigh. "More pleasure, less measure" helps commitments stick.
When I'd gained weight
I was in one of my dozen stints in the joint (my term for Weight Watchers) when I strutted in for my weekly weigh-in after a perfect, cheat-free week. I felt like Wonder Woman: strong, capable, and like I was using my powers for good.
But the scale said I'd gained weight.
I lost my superpowers and critical-thinking skills on the spot. Every exercise class I'd gone to, every meal I'd painstakingly prepared, every glass of water I'd chugged, it was all useless. "Nothing I do matters, so what's the point?" I thought. I sat through the meeting, planning what treats I'd buy on my way home to make up for lost time.
The scale measures only one thing: the numerical value of gravity's pull on your body. It can't account for variables like water retention, hormonal fluctuations, or the shoes you happen to be wearing. Because it can't account for factors that can stall or temporarily reverse weight loss, the scale is an imperfect judge of progress, especially in the short term.
If you're going to rely on a number as a significant source of feedback, you'd better brush up on your statistics skills. Even 3lbs is well within most women's monthly margin of error. Better yet, ignore the math. Ask yourself, "Do I feel proud of the choices I'm making?" Yes? Fantastic. Let that feeling push you forward, and don't jeopardize your progress by getting on the scale.
Yes, even when I lost weight the scale conspired against me
I'll admit it: Back when I was still losing and gaining the same 50-100lbs, every time I got on the scale and I'd lost weight, I felt amazing. Especially if I'd just hit a small, but meaningful (to me), weight-loss goal, like 10 or 20lbs. I felt like I was doing what I'd set out to do, and all was right with the world.
Then, maybe an hour later, I'd want to celebrate.
Since childhood I've watched thin, ageless women enjoying the same sugary snacks that I preferred to avoid when I was trying to lose weight as an adult. Still, those images of carefree beauties noshing on pastries helped shape one of my big fantasies: to eat cake while thin (and hot and young, preferably in a posh SoHo loft).
How better to celebrate my weight loss, I thought, than to eat cake? Were I someone who can eat sweets in moderation, celebrating with a slice of cake would be fine, but I'm not that person. Those celebratory treats ushered in months-long binges that brought my weight back, fast.
Losing weight doesn't change who you are, and it certainly doesn't turn you into a hot, ageless ingenue like the ones you see on TV nibbling chocolate with impunity. You can't become someone you're not, but you can be honest with yourself about who you are, and how you behave around certain food. If you stay true to yourself, then you can make consistently healthy choices around food.
Losing weight isn't easy, and getting on the scale can make it even harder. But focusing on how you feel when you're on track -- confident, energized, and progressively more comfortable -- helps you stay committed and continue to make progress. As long as you have a scale in your bathroom, self-sabotage is just a step away.
Do yourself and your health a favor: Toss the scale. Focusing on the pride, confidence, and comfort you feel when you're eating well and exercising is all the information you need.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.