As a culture, we are big on weight loss. We hear about it everywhere. It’s no wonder we envision a number on a scale when we make health goals. The problem with this is that we can sometimes build a mindset that thinness is healthy. This is not always the case. You can desire to be thin, but it does not always mean you’d be the healthiest. Imagine a thin person who eats a poor diet and is inactive. They are still at risk of heart problems, nutritional deficiencies, gut problems, and/or depression.
As you continue your health journey, your goal weight may progress into something you didn’t expect. Maybe you’ll find yourself just focusing on health and not just weight loss alone. When you focus on things like getting more active and eating healthier, weight loss will come as a bonus. On top of that, you may feel that you sleep better, have more energy, and perhaps even more clarity as to what your body needs.
So how do you know if you are making progress beyond the scale?
Consider some “non-scale” victories as measures:
- Look at body measurements or changes in clothing size. Think about all the times you’ve stepped on the scale (and feeling conflicted that it did not move) but you’re noticing how loose your clothes are fitting.
- Take progress photos. You see yourself in the mirror each day so physical changes may not be noticeable to you at first. While photos do not give you exact measurements, it may be helpful to visually see your changes.
- Review your blood and/or lab work. Work with your doctor and keep up with your routine visits. Your doctor may still look at your weight but studies are even showing that blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars can be improved even with a starting weight loss of about 5% to 10% of total body weight. This really shows that you can be healthy at any size.
- Check in with your mood and motivation. According to a 2015 scientific study, more than 80% of people who suffered from depressive symptoms reported a decrease in the severity of symptoms upon losing 5% or more of their body weight. Beyond that, they reported maintaining improvement in their mood for at least two years. When your mood is improved, your motivation to maintain or build new healthy habits can be higher. You may also find yourself having more self-confidence and feeling ready to challenge yourself even more.
- Test your fitness. Make note of your activity level at the start of your journey and refer back to it as you increase movement. Ask yourself questions like “How many steps am I taking now?” or “Can I lift more weights?” These are measures that can show improvement.
- Assess your energy level. When you’re eating healthier and staying active, you will likely have more energy. This can also be linked with better sleep quality. With more energy, you may feel sharper, focused, and have more clarity on what your body needs each day. Whether it’s with food or activity, you stay connected with your body’s intuition.
- Check in with how your body feels regarding body aches and pains. Along with energy, are you feeling better overall? If you had body aches, joint pain, or limited range of movement a few months ago, check to see if there have been improvements.
- Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals for healthy habits you want to build. Whether it’s focusing on achieving 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day or achieving 8 hours of sleep each night, celebrate these small wins. They can all lead to big victories.
While it’s helpful to have a goal weight in mind, weight can look very different on everyone. Think of a body builder who can have a body mass index of 30 or higher (indicating obesity). This shows that weight is not always an accurate measure and it’s only one snapshot of health. It’s also natural to want to lose weight fast, but weight can also fluctuate often. You may have heard about the set-point weight (that your body will adapt, adjust, and try to move back to its comfort weight) but we know that everyone is different.
In reality, the research tells us that a person is more likely to keep the weight off through gradual weight loss, which is about 1 to 2 pounds per week on average for most people.
Ultimately, everyone is different and the key to success, whether you define that success as physical or mental improvements, is to focus on long term goals and all of the signs of progress, not just the number on the scale.