Ever had that moment when we get on the scales and we are expecting one thing, then it tells us something completely different? Surely they must be lying, there is no way after all our efforts it can be that?! It can be infuriating, embarrassing, confusing and upsetting, and worst of all, it makes our hard work seem not worth-while, and can make us want to give in. This is why I am a massive advocate for celebrating non-scale victories. And more than ever this week, I have personally had to really focus on non-scale victories to keep me motivated, after the scales told me a massive dirty, hateful, upsetting lie!
What do we mean by non-scale victories?
Non-scale victories (NSV’s) or off the scales success, is everything else that happens when we lose weight, eat better or get more active. So not just the changes in the numbers, but the changes in you; the differences you notice in yourself and your body, the impact it has on our life and the happiness it brings us. Because that is what it is really all about: getting healthier and happier as our bodies and our lives change. This literally can be anything, and when you start looking for them you really will be surprised.
The simple yet slightly strange fact is that people don’t really lose weight to weigh less. We lose weight to feel better, to look slimmer, for our health, for our happiness and for our self-confidence, not because we want to see a smaller number on the scales. So it saddens me how many of us (myself included) can obsess about that number on the scales. It is utterly crazy when we start to reason it out. Your weight isn’t even a real thing, it is a number that exists to serve no purpose, nobody knows it, nobody can see it or tell, it is just a number in your head. You don’t look at people and think: I bet she weighs about 12stone, and nobody thinks the same when they look at you. Let’s imagine a dream scenario where I offer you one of two pills. Pill one will make you weigh less when you step on the scales, but you will look and feel the same. Pill two bring you all the success you want from your weight loss, but you will actually weigh the same on the scales. Which pill would you want? I bet its pill 2- because that is what we are really working towards, not a goal weight- a goal life.
There are a million measures of success when it comes to weight loss, and we all need to stop torturing ourselves over that one number. I see this all the time. Someone comes practically skipping in to the room with the joys of non-scale successes. They tell me how great they feel, that their clothes are a bit looser, someone at work noticed they have lost weight, they got up the stairs easier- everything says win, win, win, happy, happy, happy! Hoorah! Then they got on the scales and oh dear- disappointment. Could be a gain, could be the same, could even be a loss, but not the loss they were expecting. I’ve done it myself, I still do it myself, and I hate myself for it, but it’s a terrible habit to give up.
Just this week I did it. I had a great week on plan, lots of extra activity, lots of healthy positive choices. Last week I posted the half way results from my 12 week healthy bikini body challenge and I felt fantastic. Although the scales told me I had only lost 1.5lbs in 6 weeks I was feeling better and I had noticed loads of non-scale victories. Secretly, I was thinking that my 7 week weigh-in would finally show the results of my hard work. Secretly I was expecting a loss of maybe 2lbs, I may secretly have wanted more- but I know not to fall for magic bean results (see last weeks blog post for info on magic beans). So I pretty confidently hopped on the scale, ready to give myself a big high five and finally see the number I was hoping for. Far from it, I had gained 2lbs! Putting me half a pound heavier than where I started! LIES. You Lie scales! I was mortified, angered, embarrassed, confused and upset all at the same time. I had a little sulk, I tried to justify it, I tried to make excuses, I tried to reason, to logic, to deny it. I considered hitting the biscuit tin. Then I accepted it. So what, it’s just one factor in measuring my success. Everything else tells me that my hard work is paying off, so why let that one number tell me otherwise?
How do we look for non-scale victories?
You might be thinking: OK that sounds great, but I don’t think I have really noticed the difference since I started losing weight or getting more active. Maybe you haven’t yet, but that’s probably not because there hasn’t been any difference, but because you haven’t been looking out for them.
So what are we looking for? Short answer= anything. Non-scale victories really can be anything at all, if it comes as a consequence of you losing weight and it makes you feel good, then it is worth celebrating. How you feel, how your clothes fit, when people notice and make nice comments, when you do something you wouldn’t have or wouldn’t have been able to do before. Here are some of the things I have noticed over the last 6 weeks, despite not seeing the results at the scales:
- A lot of my clothes are feeling a bit loose, especially around my thighs- a real target area for me.
- A female personal trainer at my gym commented that I was looking ‘top form’ and my bottom was definitely more toned. Seriously this woman is a pro-athlete and international winning bikini competitor- she knows her stuff. Her telling me I looked good was like David Beckham saying you have good football skills!
- I bought some new trousers about 4 weeks ago, they are now too big!
- I have this one pair of shorts I call my ‘skinny shorts’ I know when I can get them on I am not doing too bad. Guess what? That is right, they are on. Not comfortable enough to wear out in public, but they are on for the first time in ages!
- I feel in control of my food choices and craving less sugar. This is a big one for me. When I am making lot of sensible, healthy choices and lots of balanced meals I just stop craving sugar as much. Some days recently I don’t even think about it at all, which is unheard of the rest of the time! I am a total sweet tooth.
- I am getting though my workouts easier and smashed personal bests in several areas, including my average pace on the rower and time to do 5km the bike.
- On a few very special occasions recently I have spotted some very slight definition around my abs. I have tried to capture them in pictures but like scared deer they vanish before I can! The thought of having any muscle definition in my stomach is something I could never even have dreamed possible when I was struggling to do up a pair of size 24 jeans!
- My skin and nails are in much better condition. I never noticed this before, but now I really see improvements in the condition of my skin and nails when I am eating a healthier, more balanced diet.
And these are just the current, short term success I am seeing with my recent efforts to get bikini ready for my holiday in April. I can’t even begin to put down all the amazing achievements I have had since starting my weight loss journey 8 years ago.
One of my favourite non-scale victories going from a size 24-10 occurred on holiday one year. Being ginger with fair skin and
freckles I have never coped well in the heat, but I never realised how much worse being overweight made it. I would actually dread going on summer holidays. I would book all my holidays in spring or autumn to avoid the peak of the heat. I was always hot, so so hot, sweating non-stop, heat rashes, and chaffing. Oh the chaffing! I had to wear shorts or I would over heat, but then the top of my legs rubbed together leaving terrible soreness in my thighs. It stung so bad, and sometimes it would even bleed. I hated it. Every holiday involved at the least half a tub of sudo cream, it was my first essential item when packing. Then after getting to goal weight, I went to Majorca with my family in August. And I tell you what; that sudo cream came back unopened. I hadn’t even noticed, but my legs no longer rubbed. No more chaffing, no more torture of the thighs! That is still the greatest success for me, and I don’t take sudo cream on holiday anymore.
What it is really all about
Looking out for NSV’s isn’t just useful for those weeks when the scales seem to lie. Even if you consistently lose weight every week, recognising your non-scale success will be a huge boost to your self-esteem, your confidence, and it will help you maintain your weight loss long term. As I said earlier, losing weight isn’t about seeing a smaller number on the scales, it is about all those other things that change our lives. If you get to your ideal weight but can’t see the difference it has made to your life, then you won’t stay at that weight very long.
A good way to make non-scale victories really work is to record them in some way. Write them in your diary, stick them on little post-it notes and put them around your mirror. Or why not make a NSV jar: I wish I had done that 8 years ago. Every time you notice a NSV write it down on a little piece of paper and pop it in a jar. Soon you will have a jar or success. Then if you are having a difficult week you can just open it up, take a few out and remind yourself how far you have come. I bet there are hundreds of non scale victories I have forgotten since getting to goal weight, I wish I had made a NSV jar to look back at now.
Why do the scales lie?
So why do those pesky scales lie? Why do they some weeks show a gain in weight when we have done everything right? Why do they not reward us for our hard work? Well the first and most honest question is this: have you really been as focused and as good as you think? Or have you slacked off a little somewhere? Portion sizes can sneak up without us realising, few extra treats we forgot to track, a bit of mindless nibbling and grazing, not exercising as much or as hard as usual. Some weeks a good honest look back will highlight the real problem: the scales haven’t lied, we’ve been lying to ourselves. And the brutal honest truth is that I would say 9 times out of 10 that someone is initially surprised by the number at the scales, they later come tell me they see where it went wrong. But not always. Some weeks we have been as good as gold, we have been mindful, weighed everything, tracked, and worked hard, so what is going on then?
When you are trying to lose weight, what we are really trying to do is lose fat, but that number on the scale doesn’t just show us fat.
It shows us fat, muscle, water, organs, bones, last time you went to the toilette, how big a meal you had earlier, how much water we have drank recently, and so much more. There are lots of things that can affect the number on the scales, none of which are really to do with loosing fat. That number is just your weight at that exact second in time, it could be completely different just a few hours later. This is also why you shouldn’t weigh more than once a week, as you will drive yourself mad seeing it change every day. If you know you have made the right choices and the scales seem to lie, don’t be disheartened, think of all those other things it could be. Ask yourself: have you had a few big carb heavy meals recently that your body is still processing, or are your toilette habits out of usual sync- if so then you could be carrying excess waste. Think: have you been drinking enough water recently- if not you could be retaining water? All these things can account for an unexpected result on the scales.
But what’s about when the scales seem to lie every week? Some of you might be wondering how I have seen so many NSVs and a noticeable difference in my body yet weigh half a pound more than I did 7 weeks ago. Surely I should have lost some weight? Well some of you may already have guessed: I have gained muscle mass and decreased body fat, resulting in no real difference in my overall weight, but a big difference in overall size and appearance. I will be very honest and say that my situation here is a pretty extreme example. It is not typical for people to gain this amount of muscle so quickly. You must remember that I am a qualified personal trainer, and most my personal exercise is based around very heavy weights training. I know that the effect of exercise on weight loss is something that many of you are often interested, and even concerned about. I don’t want to get tied down in to the science this week, so I think next weeks blog post will talk just about that: the effects of exercise on weight loss. If you have any questions about the effect of exercise on weight loss then please post them in the comments or get in touch, and I will cover them all in next weeks blog.
In the mean-time, get focusing on and celebrating those NSV’s. Whether you are seeing the results on the scales or not, keeping a record of all the ways its has changed you life will help keep you motivated and stick to a healthier, more active lifestyle long term.
I am Jennie, founder of set U free fitness, and Weight Watchers leader in Leeds. I lost 7 stone with Weight Watchers and transformed by body through exercise. I always dreamt that life after goal would be easier, but the reality is- it’s not. This personal blog is my ongoing journey to stay healthy and happy. It is a collection of my thoughts, tips, lessons learnt and mistakes made in trying to create a balanced healthy lifestyle that I can follow for life. I always love to hear your thoughts, and hear from people undergoing similar journeys, so please comment or get in touch.