Monday, March 8, 2010

Learning to Face the Scale with Zero Expectations

The scale has the power to break my heart and strip me of any motivation I have to keep going on this journey to become a healthy writer and eater if I let it. I work very hard to make sure I don’t let the numbers on a scale convince me to quit. To do this, I try to walk into my weekly weigh in at Weight Watchers with zero expectations. This will make me ok with a loss or ok with a gain. I try to be “Zen-like” about it so that either way, I’ll keep going and keep trying to lose weight. I don't focus only on the outcome (e.g. the result on the scale) but try to enjoy the practice (e.g. healthy eating/following a healthy lifestyle) as a reward all in itself.

Naturally, I'm happy when I lose a big amount of weight in one week, and I do have to combat very negative feelings when I gain. I can better contain the emotional boomerang if I approach the weigh in with zero expectations. It helps me make sure I don't let the potential negative feelings I’d have with a weight loss or even a smaller or bigger than expected weight loss change my healthy behavior. Sometimes when you lose big, you can start thinking - I've got this - it's easy - and then you're not as vigilant with being aware of what you are eating. A gain or smaller than expected loss can make you start thinking it's hopeless and why even try. It may convince you to turn to food for comfort. The zero expectations/Zen-like approach can prepare you so that you don't have a strong reaction and let that make you do something stupid. You know what works. Just keep working at it and doing it and eventually it pays off. With this philosophy, I just have to be vigilant to ensure that I'm NOT lying to myself about how much I've eaten and exercised. That's where being 100% honest in keeping a food diary helps.

Obviously, the numbers of calories in and calories out are important, but I do sometimes think there is more mystery to weight loss than just 2 + 2 = 4. For example, during a three-week stretch in the fall of 2009, I lost 4.2 pounds. The first week, I neither lost nor gained weight. I stayed the exact same weight as the week before. The following week I lost .2 of a pound. The third week I lost 4 pounds. I cannot say my behavior - my calories in and my calories out - were very different those three weeks. I do think that sometimes the body is "ready" to let go of weight and sometimes it is not. If I had let myself get upset with the little to no weight loss results those first two weeks, I may have done some emotional eating and destroyed my chances at the 4-pound weight loss that last week.

There can be a rhythm to weight loss. No matter how perfect you are in any given week, your body may not let any weight go that week. Conversely, there are weeks you are just lucky and will be surprised by a big loss. Over the long term, you can see patterns to your weight loss. Often a really big loss week is followed by a modest or small loss week and vice versa. Pre-menopausal women can really figure out a certain pattern based on their cycle. Some weeks you get lucky, and some weeks your hard work is not rewarded. It’s just something you have to accept and not allow to discourage you. You just have to keep going and keep trying and believe that in the end it will all even out. I also think emotions and stress can play a big role in losing weight. If you are 100% stressed out about your weight loss efforts or because of other things going on in your life, your body may not want to let go of the weight - even if the numbers say it should.

To me, the key is to be patient and persistent. Keep up the good habits week by week and eventually you'll be rewarded. Take the long view and don’t let any single disappointing weigh in encourage you to overeat to comfort yourself or give up. It's only a few seconds of your week, and keep it in perspective. It shouldn't set the tone for the week, determine how you are doing or feeling in all aspects of your life or how you will evaluate the past week. Having zero expectations any time you approach the scale helps keep your mind and emotions in the right place and continue this journey.

How do you approach the scale? With fear? With big expectations? What works the best for you?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


Elise Hayes on March 8, 2010 at 8:07 AM said...

Since I mostly focus on maintaining my weight, I approach the scale with an "acceptable" range in mind. For me, that's a 5 pound range. If I'm at the low end of the range, I'm delighted; if I'm in the middle, that's fine. If I'm at the upper end (around the 4th or 5th pound), it's a reminder that I need to be more careful about snacking, portion control, exercise, etc. I take a look at my eating/exercise patterns from the past week and make adjustments as needed.

Michelle Butler on March 8, 2010 at 8:28 AM said...

That sounds very smart and healthy, Elise. It is a great way to check in with how things are going.

Tawny on March 8, 2010 at 7:01 PM said...

Oh yeah, I hear ya, Michelle! The scale is a cruel and evil necessity *g* But... I'm working really hard to remember that its the long-term outcome I need to focus on, not the short-term progress. As long as I stay on track, don't give up and keep working toward my goals, it'll happen for me :-)

Sally Kilpatrick on March 8, 2010 at 8:03 PM said...

Yes, we have added the Wii Fit to the scale routine. That little %$#@! likes to say "oh" in this mocking way each time you step on.

After reading your post, I want to be more zen. I recognize those behaviors: letting gains lead you down the wrong path and, similarly letting losses trick you into complacency. I think I've done a much better job with handling the gains. It's the losses that get me into trouble.

I started yoga in January, now I'll have to try your zen approach to the scale. : )

Michelle Butler on March 8, 2010 at 8:36 PM said...

My WW leader often says he's never not seen hard work rewarded - it just may not be when we expect it to. Thinking about that helps me keep going when I get so frustrated and want to quit.

The other thing that helps is accepting that this is a lifestyle change and there is no stopping my good behavior. It doesn't matter what the scale says week-to-week because I'm practicing my new lifestyle. Hey, any mind trick that keeps me going is one I'll use. :)

Michelle Butler on March 8, 2010 at 8:43 PM said...

Oh, Sally, I think I might break your wii fit if it gave me snarky comments on my weight. Ugly words would definitely be said. :)

Have you ever read The Zen of Eating: Ancient Answers to Modern Weight Problems by Ronna Kabatznick? I found it extremely helpful, and it helped me come up with my "zen" approach to the scale. This past summer/fall, I was on what I think was an exercise-induced plateau. I was working out incredibly hard - some days more than two hours at the gym - and my weight loss seemed to stop. It made me crazy, and I really struggled with the temptation to break my promise of giving this journey one year. Reading the Zen book helped - as did volunteering to write these weekly posts - and just working on my patience.

Honestly, my plateau was broken by a 5-pound weight gain in two weeks. Let me tell you that made staying at the same weight look so pretty and nice and made me wonder why I'd let that upset me. I had to dig deep, re-commit and lose that weight. It took 3-4 weeks and I just kept going (slowly) from there. That was 20 pounds ago, and I'm very glad I kept with it through the struggles.

Michelle Butler on March 8, 2010 at 8:56 PM said...

Sally, I've been thinking about your statement that you struggle more with the losses. Since the beginning of January, I've been doing better on this journey. I'm back to about a pound a week weight loss average.

If I'm brutally honest, I'll admit I find it a little unsettling at times, and I'm not entirely sure why. The weight loss is not so hard anymore - and on some level that makes me less comfortable with the journey. I don't think I'm getting complacent. Perhaps, it's my fear of success (a fear that my WW leader has worked hard to make sure we face) popping up. I'm getting to the point that I can't think of myself as a fat person anymore (even though I'm still firmly overweight.) My weight loss is getting A LOT of attention from folks and some are treating me differently which can trigger a response that is not always positive. They're not treating me as a fat person. I know I just have to work it all out, but working stuff out doesn't seem to be a straightforward line. Anyway, there may be more to why a loss is unsettling than complacency - at least in my case.

Sally Kilpatrick on March 9, 2010 at 12:58 PM said...


First, I'm thinking the Wii isn't snarky so much as my perception thereof.

Second, I think you're on to something with that fear of success thing. As a perfectionist, I struggle with letting things go (i.e. submitting manuscripts), and I think that might tie into a fear of success. Good food for thought.

Michelle Butler on March 9, 2010 at 1:06 PM said...

If you haven't read this, you may want to glance at:

Best wishes!

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