To Weigh or Not to Weigh

My friend Brooke* called me the other day to catch up. I hadn’t seen her for a few weeks, and she was telling me how she had been traveling for work and had just come back from vacation with her family. She said she had been eating and drinking the whole time and was ready to get back to our workouts.

Then she started to say something about not having seen “that number” for a while. I cut her off mid-sentence and said, “Holy s***, did you WEIGH YOURSELF?”

There is literally nothing worse than stepping on your scale and being blindsided by the number. Which is why I was so horrified that my friend subjected herself to that after having a few not-so-healthy weeks.

But why do we weigh ourselves? Why do we want to know?

What does it even mean?

If you’re dieting, the only marker of your success is what your scale says. So, you weigh yourself. And if you’ve spent the better part of your life on a diet, you have conditioned yourself to keep weighing in, whether you’re on one or not.

This would be fine if we were all able to objectively assess the number and use it as a way to determine what’s working and what’s not. But this isn’t what we do.

Instead we use the number as a measure of internal worth. If the number is too high, you are disgusting, lazy, and out of control. If the number is low, you are a success and finally good enough. We use the number to decide how we should feel about ourselves. I weigh 140, therefore I am a failure. I wear a size 6, therefore I am good enough.

In reality, how much you weigh is simply an indicator of how you’re currently living — what you’re thinking about and what you’re consistently doing. And these things can easily be changed. So from that standpoint, weighing yourself is just a simple check in to assess whether what you’re doing is working or not.

If you’re looking at it this way, then weighing yourself can be empowering. You’re taking charge and assessing things so you can decide where to go from here. But if you’re using the number you see to make a moral judgment on yourself, then weighing yourself is the worst thing you can do.

It’s about the emotional attachment you have to the number you see. A number is just a number — it’s meaningless until you give meaning to it. Think about it. If you don’t like the way you look but you step on your scale and weigh ten pounds less than you thought, you would probably be happy. On the other hand, if you feel great about the way you look and weigh ten pounds more, you probably wouldn’t be.

I can go on and on about how weight is nothing but a number, but trust me I am attached to certain numbers just like you are. The truth is, I would never weigh myself unless I knew I was going to be happy with what I see.

I hate to admit this. I really do. After all, I’m sitting here preaching about how it doesn’t matter. But the fact is, I still struggle with letting any number past my cutoff put me into a complete depression and then react by eating to make myself feel better. (This is why I’m doing all of this, by the way — because I know how hard it is to struggle with these things.)

So, should you weigh yourself?

The reality is that thinking about how much you weigh is part of the dieting mindset, which tells you that your outer self is the only thing that matters. And if you keep working from the outside in, you will never get anywhere. However, if you focus on how you feel, you will start making intuitive decisions that lead to a healthy life — and therefore a healthy weight. If you’re doing this you have no need to weigh yourself.

But since I know you may not be that far on your journey — and clearly, I am still walking on mine — the answer is this: if weighing yourself motivates you to continue, no matter what the number is, then go ahead. However, if the number has a death grip on you and will totally derail you, don’t.

I know I wonder constantly about how much I weigh — while also not really wanting to know. I stare at my scale every single day and think about it. But I don’t weigh myself, because I’m too afraid of what I will see. (Sadly, just the fact that I’m too scared to step on the scale is enough to make me feel like a failure. Maybe after I publish this post I will finally get rid of it.)

It takes practice not to be desperate for that euphoric feeling you get when you see the number that tells you you’re finally good enough and that your life can begin. And I suspect it takes a lifetime not to think about it at all. Whatever you decide, just keep going.

*Brooke is awesome and also hysterically funny. Check out her blog: http://www.truegrit.biz


It’s All How You Look at It

My girls love to cook, and my youngest always wants me to try what she made. The other morning, she reheated some s’mores that she and her sister made and wanted me to take a bite. It was first thing in the morning, and I would normally never eat something so sweet that early. But of course I took a bite, because it made her happy.

If I was dieting and trying not to eat sweets and did this, I would have felt like I cheated and would have quit and started all over. But I didn’t — because of how I was looking at it.

I know how it feels to cheat on a diet, feel bad about yourself, and just give up. But what if you chose to see it differently?

You can use your perspective to help you — or you can let it hurt you. Seeing every slip up as a failure keeps you stuck in the dieting loop. But you can reframe the scenario to keep you from feeling like you failed. It’s a psychological trick you can use to your advantage.

You actually do this a lot without realizing it. I know I’ve eaten my share of energy bars that basically amount to no more than a candy bar. But since I thought of it as something healthy, it didn’t totally derail me. I’ve also missed meals while traveling, sometimes going almost a whole day without food. But I didn’t think of it as starving myself, so I wasn’t constantly thinking about how hungry I was and trying not to eat.

Using your perspective in your favor also helps you gain insights you wouldn’t ordinarily get when you’re in the success/failure dieting mindset.

Let’s use the travel example. I felt hungry, but I didn’t have any options other than those lame crackers they give you on the plane. After about 30 minutes my hunger went away. So I learned that I didn’t have to eat every time I felt hungry. I learned that the hunger I felt may actually have been false hunger. And I learned that I could try waiting 30 minutes before I gave in to the urge to shove something down. If I had been trying not to eat anything all day, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on anything but being hungry. And I would have eventually given in, failed, and felt like a loser who had no willpower.

When you see every slip up as a failure, you tend to quit, feel bad about yourself, and start all over. So changing your mindset prevents you from staying stuck. If you choose to reframe things, you keep going and make progress.

Even if you do something that’s obviously a major slip up — like down a plate of French fries — you can at least choose to learn from it. You can ask yourself how you felt leading up to it, while you were doing it, and after you were done. You can look at things objectively and use what you learn to help you in future scenarios instead of feeling like crap about yourself.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an excuse to do whatever you want and then say “it’s all how you look at it” and continue with an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s just to not let things derail you and feel like a total failure.

Feeling like you failed keeps you stuck. Conversely, feeling like you’re making progress increases your confidence. This is really important, because someone who is confident can look past her external flaws and focus on being healthy. Someone who hates the way she looks is motivated only by a desire to lose weight and stays stuck.

Use your perspective as a tool to stay motivated to continue making positive changes. Choosing the right perspective helps you see everything differently — including yourself.


Who Do You Think You Are?

I think of myself in a lot of different ways. I’m sensitive, compassionate, funny, and for sure type A. All of these are identities I’ve created for myself, and they make me act in specific ways.

For example, I can’t stand to think about anyone feeling left out and will cross a cocktail party to talk to the person who’s standing alone. I crack jokes at just about anything — especially myself — and I love to laugh. And if any of the items in my refrigerator has a label that doesn’t line up with the others, I start to hyperventilate.

But there’s one identity I used to have that was preventing me from doing the very thing I was desperate to do: lose weight. It took me forever to figure out that seeing myself as someone who needed to lose weight was preventing me from losing it. When I stopped saying and thinking “I need to lose weight,” I finally lost it.

You may think that this is just something harmless you say, but if your life revolves around losing weight it has become an identity. Think about it: someone who wants to lose a few pounds is very different from the person who is desperate to do so, who makes plans based on what she looks like, and who obsesses about the next meal and what she’s going to eat. That person literally is “someone who needs to lose weight.”

You have multiple identities and if you can relate to what I just said, this is one of them. You reinforce it by saying it to yourself, by saying it to your friends, and by scrutinizing your body to see if the weight is still there. If you see yourself this way, you will stay this way — because an identity makes you do what you do.

One of the ways you support your identity as someone who needs to lose weight is to diet. And this isn’t good, because dieting keeps you stuck.

Here’s the cycle: Saying “I need to lose weight” makes you diet, which involves restricting yourself, which creates resistance, which needs to be neutralized, which makes you eat, which means you fail, which means you regain the weight. Which takes you right back to “I need to lose weight.”

It’s not about what you do — it’s about how you see yourself and how that makes you do what you do.

Think about women whose bodies you envy. What do they do all day? What do they eat? What exercises do they do? I used to be obsessed with finding these things out. But the question you really should be asking is, why do they do these things?

Women who look amazing don’t look that way because they force themselves to do what they do. They do these things because they think of themselves differently. They have an identity that makes them do these things.

For example, actresses who restrict themselves don’t do it because they’re trying to lose weight. Staying a certain weight is part of a larger identity they have (actress), which makes them have habits and routines that support that identity.

And even if you follow their routines to the letter, you’re ultimately going to fail, because being someone who needs to lose weight is an identity for you. You will be doing these things out of desperation, not excitement, and feeling desperate keeps you stuck in the cycle.

Being someone who needs to lose weight keeps you counting calories, weighing yourself, and pushing yourself to work out. This leads to resistance, binge eating, and regaining the weight. Being someone who is healthy, vibrant, and fit means you naturally eat less because it doesn’t feel good to stuff yourself, you never weigh yourself because you feel lean and light, and you move your body simply because you want to break a sweat. All of this makes you feel good, so you continue, build on your successes, increase your confidence, and ultimately have the body you want.

You have to see yourself differently, and this new identity will naturally lead to doing things that change your body. You have to see yourself as someone who is beautiful, who is a work in progress, and who has excitement for life — basically, someone who isn’t trying to lose weight.

So, how do you stop thinking of yourself as someone who needs to lose weight? You have to start focusing on the positive traits you have and what you like about your body. This is challenging and takes time, because you have to train yourself to be aware of when you’re being critical of yourself and then change those thoughts. When you start focusing on what you like instead of what you hate, you start to feel lighter emotionally. This inner change will lead to the outer change you want. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Once you start seeing yourself differently and change this identity, you will start doing things that naturally change how you look. Your habits will change, you’ll feel happy that you’re improving yourself, you’ll feel enthusiastic about your life, and then your body will change.

Yes, it takes time. But think about all the time you’ve wasted dieting. If you had been doing this inner work instead, you wouldn’t even recognize yourself today. So, change your identity, change your thoughts, change your habits, change your body — and change your life.


Habit Change Part 3: You’re a Hard Habit to Break

Note: This post is the third in a three-part series on habit change

Why are habits so hard to break? Because you’re going about it the wrong way.

The key is to change habits — not break them. Trying to break habits never works, because it’s almost impossible to completely stop doing something you’ve trained yourself to do, sometimes for years. (Not to mention trying to stop doing multiple things at once, like you do when you diet.)

You learned in my last post how habits are formed. You have a trigger that leads you to take a specific action, which then gives you a reward. If you take this action over and over, your brain senses a pattern and rewires itself to take that action automatically. I used the example of stress eating: the trigger is stress, the reward is feeling better, and the action you’ve consistently taken to get from one to the other is to eat. So stress eating is now a habit.

The key is to change what you do in the middle of the trigger/reward loop. If you change the behavior, your brain picks up on a new pattern, and you start engaging automatically in the new behavior. That’s when you’ve “broken” the old habit and formed a new one.

Sounds simple, right? Not really. You don’t just start going from stressed to not stressed by doing some deep breathing instead of bingeing on potato chips. You can’t expect yourself to go from A to Z — that is a recipe for failure. And if you’ve tried to go from A to Z by dieting over and over again and failing over and over again, you’re probably not confident that you can change anything at all.

You have to make changing a habit as easy on yourself as possible, so you can get the small wins that help rebuild your confidence and stay motivated to continue. Here are three strategies to use to help change your habits effectively and easily.

Add, don’t eliminate. Trying not to do something makes that thing more desirable. If you usually have fries with your lunch and all of a sudden make yourself order a salad instead, you’re going to be staring at everyone else’s fries trying to figure out a way to steal some. On the other hand, ordering a salad in addition to the fries is not hard in the least.

When you consistently make additions to what you already do, you eventually displace your habit. If you keep adding a side salad to your meal, you may start eating only half of the fries. Then you may start ordering a salad instead of the fries. And the feeling of accomplishment you get after making these small changes may compel you to make your entire meal a salad. Instead of trying to break your habit, you changed it.

Doing this also helps you make distinctions that you wouldn’t usually make because you’re so busy focusing on what you can’t do and feeling the stress of that. You may learn that greens really can fill you up. Or you may realize how shoving down fries makes you feel kind of gross. Sometimes just adding something healthy is enough to make you feel like you’re making progress, even if you don’t eliminate anything.

Start with the easy ones. This is self-explanatory. If you start with habits that feel easy to change, you’re obviously going to increase your odds of being successful. If it feels easier for you to stop eating fries every time you eat out than it does to quit shoving down a half a bag of chocolate every night, then start with the fries. Successfully changing any habit is an accomplishment and keeps you motivated.

Make tiny changes. Making small, incremental changes to what you already do is easy. And getting small wins is critical to your success at changing a habit, because it makes you feel confident — the opposite of how you feel when you diet and fail over and over again. If you feel good, you keep going.

Also, when the changes you make are small that means you can make several of them simultaneously, which compounds your results. If you make micro-changes to several habits, you get multiple small wins that make you feel like you’re capable of making bigger changes. Then when you start changing the more damaging habits that are derailing your efforts at losing weight and being healthy, you really start seeing results.

Entire books have been written about this topic, so there’s obviously much more to say. For now, just know that you have your particular habits for a reason and that you can easily change them if you go about it the right way.

The excess weight you have on your body is a result of your habits, and you can’t change them by forcing yourself not to engage in them — which is exactly why diets don’t work. Habits aren’t broken, only changed. When you diet, you miss this critical step and keep yourself stuck.

Losing weight won’t change your life — but changing your habits will. Start small, stay motivated, and see results.