First off, Happy Pi Day! For those of you who think with the left side of the brain, that means the celebration of the mathematical constant representing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. For the right siders, that means the celebration of the homophonous and infinitely more delicious pie. I majored in English, so you can probably bet pretty safely as to which one I care more about. And also can’t have yet.
The irony in Pi Day (at least for me and today) is that on this one in particular, I managed to hit my lowest weight in around four years, clocking in at 173.8! You can bet that when I stepped off of the scale this morning, I was grinning so wide, you’d have thought someone had given me a Glasgow smile – only without all of the blood.
Anyway, the reason I felt so giddy about it is because I’ve been stuck at a stagnant point in my weight loss regime for well over a month. No matter how well I tried to eat, no matter how hard or often I exercised, the goddamned scale absolutely refused to budge to under 175. I had to remind myself that I was succeeding in other ways – I could do more reps per exercise at the gym, I could run more consistently when I went jogging, I continuously shaved precious seconds off of my mile run (I dropped my mile run time from 11:46 to 10:55 in the span of three weeks! A major victory that I think constitutes my being allowed to have cake and ice cream on my birthday). Yet I have to confess that for all of my self-righteous spouting in my last post, I do check the scale to see how I’m doing, because I do have a numeric weight goal to reach and it’s kind of hard to know if I’ve achieved it without, you know, measuring it on a scale. I was feeling a little discouraged yesterday about the fact that the scale still wasn’t moving, especially because I found out my 10-year high school reunion is being planned for August of this year, and I’ll be absolutely damned if I’m going to show up as the same person – down to my weight – that I was in high school. So all of those factors combined this morning after I stepped on the scale cumulated in a big fat sigh of relief and a jump for joy from me.
Momentum with weight loss follows every other form of physics on the planet, in that it starts out really slowly, and then has to gradually build – and I think that’s part of the reason people are so easily discouraged. You see these people on TV or read about them, or you talk to them at the gym, and they’ve already gained momentum, so they’re losing 2-3 pounds or more per week, whereas you’re in month 2 or 3 and you have yet to see a single iota of change. Maybe you lost a pound, maybe your pants are just a tiny bit less snug, but you’d expect to be pulling the same kind of weekly weight loss as people who have been doing it for much longer. It’s really frustrating to think that people who are twice your size are losing twice the weight you are in half the time doing half as much, or someone who’s in your age and weight range just cutting out one or two junk food items or hitting the gym once or twice a week and is dropping weight like a rock. It contributes to a very defeatist mindset, and it’s one that I know I’ve had for a number of years, so I guess I just wanted to share my perspective on it to help anyone who’s been in a similar situation to understand that things will, in fact, get better.
The biggest problem that I think is prevalent in the weight-loss community, and I’ve mentioned it before, is the use of scales as a measure of health or success. People can tell you that on the first day you decide to go running, or to go to the gym, that you’re already healthier than you were yesterday, but you certainly don’t believe it because you go home and step on the scale and absolutely nothing has changed. So, the first step in changing your attitude about healthy habits and exercise is to stop using the scale as a measure of your health. Your scale measures your weight. It does not measure your BMI, your cholesterol level, or how fast or far you can run, how much you can lift, or how long you can go. It measures your weight, something that can be affected by a multitude of different things – not just fat. Your weight can be influenced by water retention, the contents of your digestive system, and, most significantly, by the amount of muscle you have. Muscle does, in fact, weigh more than fat, and I had to have my friend Amanda beat that into my head for weeks before I finally accepted it. Fat is a factor too, but just because you’re noticing you still have some jiggle in your thighs doesn’t mean you’re not making progress if you’re performing healthy habits on a DAILY BASIS. What you’re doing today is building momentum. The longer you do it, the more momentum you gain. If you’re pushing a boulder across a field, you have to start out with the most amount of work, and the longer you go, once that momentum is achieved, the easier it gets to roll that rock. That’s why the first step is not only the most important, but also the most difficult, and it’s where people falter the fastest. It’s why people who make resolutions at New Years to go back to the gym are usually gone by February. The initial phase is the hardest, and shows the least amount of progress. The real progress happens when you get the ball rolling, and then, there’s no stopping you.
But you have to remove yourself from the mindset that your weight is the ONLY indicator of your success. The scale is the tiniest factor in measuring your progress, but people turn it into the most important tool. And I realize that stopping relying on the scale is an easier concept to say than it is to apply. Even when I was stuck at 175 on the scale for well over a month, people were still commenting on how much slimmer I looked, and I realized that my body was, in fact, changing. There was a meme floating around on Facebook that says it takes 4 weeks (this is a rough estimate, I can’t remember the details for the life of me) for you to notice a change in your body and 12 weeks for everyone else to notice, but I don’t think that that’s necessarily true. I actually think that because people who are trying to lose weight have a general predisposition to be more self-critical, that other people notice your weight loss/body changing before you yourself do. Plus it all goes back to the scale, unfortunately. The first time someone told me I looked skinnier, I thought they were just being nice, because it was someone I know and see often, and I knew for a fact that my weight as far as being measured by the scale hadn’t changed from the previous time I’d see them up until they’d made the comment. But then it was others – people I hadn’t seen in a few months, no less, telling me how good I looked, asking how much weight I’d lost, commenting that I must’ve been hitting the gym pretty hard! You can be self-effacing as much as you want only to a certain extent – then afterwards, you kind of have to accept that there’s something GOOD going on here, because the world, in fact, didn’t just randomly go collectively crazy. I was still at 175 and had been for a while, and even then, the most weight I’d lost in recent months was 5 pounds, and surely it didn’t make THAT much of a difference. But it did. Not because the weight was gone, but because I was, in fact, losing fat. My body was changing. I was gaining muscle, which more than likely compensated for the fat loss as far as my weight. I was running farther and faster, I was lifting more weight and more reps, and my clothes were getting looser by the day. The progress was there. It’s still there, and I didn’t need a scale to see it, once I really began to understand that change was,in fact, happening.
I don’t want to tell people to throw their scales away because that would make a hypocrite out of me. I still have mine. I check my weight every day (which is a big no no, by the way. Weight can fluctuate from day to day based on hormones and water retention, especially if you’re a woman), because I do glean quite a bit of comfort out of having a number to show my progress. But it’s not the only number I base my progress on. It’s paired up there with my current mile-run time, how many weeks into Couch to 5K I am, how many pounds I can lift or press, and how many reps I can do. If that scale goes up, I have all of those other numbers to remind me that I’m not failing. All of those numbers together are what measure how exercising has positively affected my body, but at the end of the day, my feelings of happiness and optimism and overall good health are what measure my success. And that’s because I’ve finally gained enough momentum.