I’ll be honest. I had a f*cked up relationship with body image and the scale for more than half of my life.
Actually, my current relationship with the scale is nonexistent, and my body image is stronger than it was ten years ago for sure. Believe it or not this screwed up yet beautiful journey has helped mold me into who I am today, and also has given me a little wisdom and compassion to help others, especially while working in the health and fitness industry.
I hear it all of the time, clients want to measure their progress so they go out and buy a new scale or wipe the dust off the one under their bathroom vanity to do daily or weekly weigh-ins. We go to the doctor and the first thing they want to do is weigh us. Whenever anyone goes on a new diet they measure it by telling people how much weight they lost. There’s a billion dollar industry that has used marketing for years and years surrounding a number on the scale.
Hey, I get it. We want to track progress, we want to know if what we are doing is working. I’ve had a few people tell me that it is motivating to them, and that they are pretty level-headed about getting on the scale to keep them “in check” after struggling with weight for many years.
In certain situations, the scale is extremely helpful. Babies need to be weighed to make sure they are thriving, kids need to be measured to make sure they are growing, and during pregnancy doctors want to know if you are gaining too little or too much weight . Even certain adults may need to be weighed for a multitude of health purposes. Some of these cases it is a matter or internal consistency, but as far as that number goes, it doesn’t define you, and the problem is so many of us let it! I know I have let that number get to me, as a child, as a teen, as an adult before babies, during pregnancy, after babies … so I finally decided to break up with the scale.
My obsession with food and weight started when I was 12.
I was always a thin kid, very active, and ate whatever I wanted. The summer before 8th grade I started to notice that my body began to change because of puberty. Listening to all the females obsess about their weight around me sure didn’t help my impressionable mental state.I had also seemed to have gained a little bit of weight, I stopped being interested in sports and would rather sit in my room in my flannel blasting Nirvana and Pearl Jam, realizing that my diet of cheese fries, pizza, and cookie dough was catching up with me. It also seemed like everyone had something to say about someone’s body at all times. That may not have been the case, and I absolutely do not blame anyone for my issues, but that is what I took in and remembered. It was totally normal to hear everyone talking about what diet they were on, how much they lost or gained, how thin they were when they were younger, how many calories they ate, or how they didn’t eat all day, and so on. Rapid weight loss commercials on TV prompted me to buy my first bottle of diet pills when I was 14 at the local drug store, and had no idea about proper nutrition besides the fact that you weren’t supposed to eat fat (and that too many calories were bad). My obsession with weighing myself began and it was a slippery slope of disordered shit.
I wanted to be a girl that looked like a 12-year-old boy because that is what I thought would make me beautiful. No, seriously, I remember being envious of an actual boy’s body when I was young. All because I thought that I had to look a certain way, and be a certain certain number on the scale. I went into in-patient treatment at The Renfrew Center in Philadelphia for an eating disorder the day before my 16th birthday, and I will say aside from my children, husband and finding yoga, that terrifying experience is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Here I am 20 years later, writing this blog, teaching yoga, having turned my unhealthy obsession with food into a positive hobby and profession of something I can truly say that helped me grow to love food and my body for all the amazing things that it does. Finding yoga and meditation after my daughter was born has been particularly grounding and healing since my biggest motivation to be a healthy role model from the inside out was finding out I was having a little girl over 6 years ago. Nothing keeps me in check more that knowing she is always watching and listening.
Life experience has shown me that we are all beautiful at different shapes and sizes. Curvy figures, boyish figures, athletic, and so on. I have also seen people of all those different shapes and sizes body shamed. It isn’t right, and we need to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and each other.
Eating disorders and body image issues do not discriminate. I have seen men and women alike struggle. The goal is the feel good on your own skin. If you want to change your lifestyle to feel better and even “look better” that is all good. It is when we become obsessed and unhealthy in our thinking that we need to take a step back and seek help. I don’t think anyone should be shamed to want to look and feel better as much as anyone should be shamed for not looking like society’s ideal. The problem is that weight loss industry is in our faces constantly, and the way social media is today makes me fear for all the younger generations impression of “perfection” that is constantly being displayed.
In 2003 I started my first business doing in-home personal training and sports nutrition. How does one go from being in years of therapy for food and body image problems to working in a profession where you help people “lose weight” and “get in shape”? This is a topic for another blog post. All I will say is that part of my healing was helping others in a balanced and healthy way, even if I wasn’t always balanced and healthy when I first began. It did take me many year to get where I am now, but there are so many things along the way that I learned and that helped me, and I am forever grateful for my journey. Many years ago I spoke at a college to a group of students with a therapist from Renfrew about my recovery story. One thing the therapist kept saying to me was how she admired that I had turned something negative in my life into something positive. This is the message I try to spread today, turning the discomfort and “hate” we have with our bodies, and the obsession with dieting and the scale into a positive lifestyle change full of balance.
Even back when I first started my business I did not recommend the scale to my clients. You may be wondering what I would recommend to a client or a person looking for an external resource of motivation when making healthy lifestyle changes. I will break it down below:
Did you know that whenever you change your diet or add in a new exercise regimen the scale will fluctuate? You may be ecstatic week one when you notice you dropped a “few pounds”, but get discouraged week three and question yourself or how you are eating when the scale creeps back up or stands still. It is a total mind f@*k.
There are so many diets that promote and promise rapid weight loss. You know what I am talking about, many of us can’t get away from the before and after photos on Facebook. I want you to think about this logically though. Does losing 20 pounds in 10 days really sound healthy to you? It takes longer for true fat loss depending on your body type. Most of these programs are selling rapid water loss, not rapid fat loss and that is what the scale is measuring!
Many clients make this statement: “How will I know if what I am doing will show results? It is motivating for me to track my progress.” You can absolutely track progress without focusing on calories or the scale. Life is much better this way.
Diets don’t work. Real food does! Instead of the scale focus on these questions:
- How do you feel?
- How are your cravings? Do you notice as time goes on that you are cravings more fresh, whole foods rather than processed sugary & chemical-laden foods?
- Is your skin clear and glowing?
- Do you feel more vibrant and healthy?
- Do you have more energy?
- Are you sleeping better?
- Are you less stressed?
- Is your mood better overall?
- Are you physically stronger?
- Can you eat “fun” foods without feelings of guilt or shame?
“Dieting” and restrictive eating will make you cranky and tired just as much as over-eating a poor diet of processed foods and sugar. Find balance in the definition of healthy that is going to make you happy and thrive
From simply an aesthetic view it has been common knowledge for years that muscle mass and fat mass are two different things. Muscle mass takes up less space, while fat mass takes up more space. So even though 1 pound of muscle and 1 pound of fat weigh the same, one is going to take up much more space than the other. Two people at 5’4 weighing 120 pounds can look completely different and have different clothing sizes, based on their body types. The scale and those BMI charts aren’t really telling you much about progress in that regard.
How to visually track your progress:
Progress Pictures, Maybe?
You don’t need to post them anywhere, take them for your own personal use.It doesn’t have to be in a bikini. It doesn’t even have to be body focused. Give yourself 30-60 days to take the “after” photo once you have made lifestyle changes. Focus on how your skin looks, muscle tone, how happy you look, if you see more of a “glow” and confidence in your after shots.
How is your clothing fitting?
This is probably the easiest way to track progress. Simply notice how your jeans are fitting. I live in yoga pants most days, so I wouldn’t really know.
What About Body Fat Measurements?
Many body fat scales are not very accurate. The most affordable form would be through bioelectrical impedance (BIA) but it is more internally consistent, and you would have to provide the same exact conditions each week, which is hard to do. Drink a glass of water or go on the scale dehydrated and it will be off by 10%. Plus, it kind of defeats the purpose of staying off of a scale since these all will also give you a body weight, along with a fat percentage. Generally, a more affordable method is to use those skin calibers, but if you get those cheap plastic ones it is probably not worth it. You can try seeing if your gym has a high-quality pair and ask if they would mind tracking your body fat at the beginning and end of the month. Or you can get into the much more expensive ways to measure body fat like the body pod, DEXA scan and water displacement. These are much more accurate but cost hundreds of dollars to do. If you ask me, it isn’t really worth it unless you’re some type of body builder. Why focus that much on a number? Just be grateful for new-found energy and keep moving forward!
Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Nurture your metabolism by staying off the scale and give yourself a long vacation from worrying about weight loss. Focus on learning about the food you’re eating, getting in your kitchen, and reaping all the wonderful benefits healthy living has to offer. Let the “weight loss” happen if that is a goal, and be pleasantly surprised one day when you fit back into an old pair of jeans!
The scale is the worst. Honestly. Scale weight will change depending on what you eat that day, how hydrated or dehydrated you are, whether you’ve gone to the bathroom, etc. Why allow one little contraption either make or ruin your day? Why let it play with your head?
I would love to hear some body positive ways you track healthy progress. Talk soon XO